Helping Families in Denial About Dementia

dementia denial

Three Real Examples that Worked

You are the daughter or son who “gets it”. Not only is your parent – most likely your mom – experiencing some physical decline, she’s definitely showing signs of dementia.

Dementia is actually a cluster of symptoms including personality changes, agitation, loss of interest in hobbies, compromised judgement and impaired thinking.

As the son or daughter who sees Mom regularly you accept that she is increasingly unsafe at home. What is so “clear” to you however, is not so “clear” to your siblings and other family members.

You are planning ahead in Mom’s behalf, but your siblings, not so much! Welcome to the all-too-common dilemma of diverse family denial dynamics.

Consider these three successful techniques shared by attendees at my community presentations.

See No Evil!

One lovely lady, June, said her older sister Martha was exhibiting unsafe behaviors. Martha lived alone but wasn’t locking her doors June discovered and it appeared she wasn’t cooking or possibly eating well either.

June repeatedly shared her concerns with her two younger sisters to no avail. As they continued to rebuff June’s pleas to be proactive, she devised this creative plan.

June developed a rouse requiring her to be out of town and successfully orchestrated to have Martha visit at the youngest sister, Carol’s house for a week. Carol hosted Martha for barely 30 hours before she called June complaining how “shocked” she was by Martha’s “bizarre” remarks and behaviors. Kudos to June! With Carol and her husband on board, everything else fell into place to get Martha more help and eventually an assisted living placement.

Hear No Evil

A middle-aged man, Michael shared this frustrating story. His situation was unique in that he was the one who lived far away from his parents. His sister Jean however was local.

Michael felt for some time that communication with both his parents had been deteriorating and erratic. When his mother died, he flew home for the funeral and stayed with his father Fred.

Michael was appalled to see how compromised his father really was, especially with memory and judgment. He expressed his fears to Jean and sited multiple examples, but she was in denial. Dad was “just in shock and grieving.” (I know those excuses too). Remembering his Dad was especially intolerant of yelling Mike developed this plan.

Over dinner Michael deliberately started goading Jean, gently at first and then pressed harder. As Jean’s voice steadily increased in rebuttal, their Dad reacted. Even Michael was stunned when Fred suddenly covered his ears and bowed his head.

“Don’t yell at me” Fred cried, rocking gently.

Instantly both kids identified their father’s reaction. Fred had shared stories growing up under his verbally abusive father. Consequently, Fred was very sensitive to raised voices. Fred mumbled other remarks, clearly indicating he was living past events.

Jean was subsequently more accepting and together she and Michael developed a plan for their dad.

Speak No Evil

Marjorie lived in an independent senior complex; her family was several hours away. Staff there steadily noticed personality changes, verbal outbursts and confusion.

When the family didn’t seem convinced about the staff’s observations, it was suggested that perhaps seeing examples of Marjorie’s “rants” would be helpful. With the family’s permission, staff recorded several different episodes: Marjorie running through the lobby screaming; poking another in the chest; yelling at the maintenance man, accusing him of stealing her coat.

Once the family heard and saw evidence of Marjorie’s behaviors, they agreed to a more secure Assisted Living setting with trained staff.

If you’re that person, the one who sees the big picture when the rest of the family still has blinders on, try to figure out what it would take for at least one of the resistance to see the light. In my case, a video of my mother yelling, running or stomping her feet in frustration, would have been enlightening.

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Elaine C.Pereira

About Elaine C.Pereira

Elaine retired in June 2010 as a school Occupational Therapist where she worked with special needs children. She lives in southeastern Michigan with her husband, Joe. Between them, they have five children — Joe has three sons and Elaine has twin daughters-and soon-to-be five grandchildren. Elaine has a Bachelor’s Degree and Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy from Wayne State University. Elaine is the author of I Will Never Forget and she was inspired to tell her mother’s incredible story in part to help other caregivers coping with memory loss issues in their loved ones. I Will Never Forget

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