The Dangers of Denial: Dementia

 “I believe we’re all in denial about the people we love.”

David Geffen spoke those words, and they’re especially true for family members who have a loved one with dementia. Denial is refusing to acknowledge an uncomfortable or unacceptable truth or to admit it into consciousness.

We’ve all used denial in one way or another to defend ourselves against a painful truth. The trouble is, denial only works for a while, and it always leads to failure.

Denying that a loved one has dementia is a dangerous proposition. Left unchecked, dementia will progress to the point where it causes a disaster and can no longer be denied. Ignoring the fact that Mom needs a walker can led to a fall and broken bones. Letting her manage her own medication can result in an overdose. Refusing to accept that Mom needs supervision can lead to accidents in the kitchen and bath, and even a fire. She could walk away in the night. She could crash her car. She could get swindled out of her life savings.

In her book A Gradual Disappearance, Elizabeth Lonseth shares her personal experience caring for loved ones with dementia — all four of her parents had cognitive disease — and offers valuable advice for anyone coping with a family member with dementia. Lonseth is a major proponent of adopting a realistic perspective about your loved one’s illness and his or her needs.

Denial-Proof Yourself

The best antidote to denial is observation. You might want to keep a notebook for jotting down your observations of Mom‘s behavior. But the point is: pay attention. If you find it difficult to observe your mom objectively, find someone who can.

Keep an eye out for the following signs, and if they persist, consult with a professional:

  • Changes in short-term memory
  • Trouble adding and subtracting
  • Using words incorrectly or jumbling words when talking
  • Becoming quiet and withdrawn
  • Struggling to perform what used to be routine tasks
  • Inability to carry out plans
  • Becoming more angry, agitated and restless
  • Are bills stacking up? Are there late notices? Has the mail even been opened?

For more information and advice, contact the Alzheimer’s Association.

Be Proactive; Get Their Papers in Order

Even if your elderly parent is as sharp as ever, it’s a good idea to ensure they have all their legal papers in place, such as financial power of attorney, medical power of attorney (aka Advance Health Directive), and written permission for their adult children to access their health records.

If Mom’s dementia has progressed to the point she can’t remember if she has these documents let alone help you find them, start by contacting her doctor, attorney, CPA or financial person, and anyone else who might know what’s happening with her financially and health-wise.

Contact the Alzheimer’s Association for help and advice.

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