How to cope with denial in dementia


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It can be difficult to know how to cope with denial in dementia, but there are things you can do to help your loved one to understand, accept, and live with dignity.


How to cope with denial in dementia

The confusion, memory loss and communication problems of dementia can be difficult to cope with. Often people may deny the disease rather than face the frightening truth. But you can help them to accept, adapt and live well with dementia. Being diagnosed with dementia can be devastating, particularly in the early days when your loved one may have a greater understanding of the disease and its implications. Many people go through a sort of grieving process for the life they were hoping to lead. Anger, resentment, guilt and sadness are all normal responses -but often it can be easier to deny the disease than to deal with the difficult truth. It’s tricky because the dementia can affect their ability to fully comprehend and cope with the diagnosis. But denial can cause problems with managing the demands of daily life, accepting help and maintaining safety. However, there’s lots that can be done to help them understand, accept and live with dignity.

Conversation without conflict

Dementia can be the elephant in the room, with everyone afraid to talk about the issue. Set a time to have a chat. Stay calm and don’t try and challenge their denial. Just ask them to listen to your worries. Sometimes referring to treatable causes of memory loss like metabolic diseases and vitamin deficiencies may encourage your loved one to get medical advice.

Find the facts

Easily digestible literature and videos can help your loved one learn more about dementia. Sometimes being given lots of evidence about the disease can help overcome the initial denial. Don’t overwhelm them with research and complicated facts and figures, they’ll struggle to absorb and process the information. Instead, try watching an appropriate TV programme or film together, or leave leaflets around the home that they can look at when they are ready.

Get help

The truth is, it can often be easier to accept information from an impartial outsider. An elderly person has spent the majority of their life in a position of authority in relation to you. They're used to their independence, and may resent you for trying to 'take control'. However, the elderly tend to have a healthy respect for professional people in positions of authority.

A meeting with a therapist or doctor may get the message across, when family and friends have failed. If they refuse to attend, talk to the GP about your worries.


If those people are aware of family concerns, they can check your loved one’s health and cognitive function when seeing them for other problems.

Work together

If you can, try and attend important appointments with your loved one. You can offer support, ask questions and raise concerns that the individual with dementia has forgotten or may be ashamed or embarrassed to discuss.

Be positive

Many people deny dementia or avoid seeking diagnosis because the future seems so bleak. Although there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, there have been many advances in care and there is plenty of promising research that may reduce the rate of decline and improve function. Reassure your loved one that acting quickly could make a real difference.

With support and treatment, they may have better memory retention, leading to improved self-care, which can lead to the ability to stay independent for longer.


Don’t force it

This is a difficult time and confusing time, so be sensitive. It can be important to occasionally remind them that they have Alzheimer’s, but talking about ‘memory problems’ or ‘forgetfulness’ may make things easier for everyone. As the disease proceeds, their memory and understanding will fail and they may not remember everything they have been told about their dementia. In the late stages they may struggle to even understand that they are unwell, or that they’ve been forgetful. Each reminder of forgotten facts, lost memories or their diagnosis may trigger confusion, confrontation and distress. It can often be better to just let things lie, banging the message home will be upsetting for everyone, without making any difference to their comprehension of their illness.

Be kind to yourself

Providing support for someone with dementia can be draining, and slowly losing your loved one to a progressive disease will be hard. Accepting the emotions you feel will help you to process what's going on as it happens. It might feel easier to suppress your feelings at the time, but this can lead to stress, which can cause health problems for yourself further down the line. Make sure you make yourself a priority, and get the help you need as and when you need it.

Practical planning

A little help, support and organisation can make a massive difference to your loved one’s ability to live well and function. Organise regular routines, make a list of tasks and a timetable of self-care. Make the house safe so that risks of accidents are minimised, and ensure that someone is available to help and prevent any problems. A carer can be employed to come into the home to provide support, help with chores and offer a friendly face. It’s a good idea to get legal papers in place, such as power of attorney and permission to see the health records. Without these it can be tricky to deal with finances and consent to medical treatment, when your loved one is not able to do so themselves.
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