How to Deal with Dementia Denial
Dealing with dementia denial may not be something that crossed your path before. If you are caring for an elderly relative, you are already doing a difficult job. Of course the love and affection you have for them helps a lot. Furthermore, since this is a decision you made, the commitment is a burden you chose to carry. Spending time with your elderly loved one towards the end of their life is precious for you both. They cared for you when you were young and now it is your turn to pay them back. Reliving the old days and making new memories are things the entire family can enjoy and participate in. Unfortunately, this only makes it harder to know how to deal with dementia denial.
The link here is specific to your situation: https://vic.fightdementia.org.au/about-dementia/i-am-a-carer-family-member-or-friend
However, you may have noticed certain changes, even deterioration, in their mental health. You may even suspect that dementia is on the horizon. If you are correct, you may be wondering what to do next. Here at Vermont Aged Care we are familiar with the problems of dementia. Therefore we have experience that we are happy to share with you. Fact sheets are available at https://vic.fightdementia.org.au/about-dementia/resources/help-sheets.
Before you go jumping in with both feet for that first conversation, you need to know a few things abouthow to deal with dementia denial. First of all, you should probably expect a denial. That is because dementia sufferers are often the last people to know about their condition. Since dementia is a degenerative brain condition it can come on unnoticed by the sufferer. In fact, outsiders probably notice the signs before the patient does. Of course you don’t want to shock them by being blunt. That is why it’s a good idea to begin by having a private conversation with their regular physician. This person will know their patient in some depth. They might recommend a checkup. This would serve to eliminate any physical ailments or connections with medication.
The softly, softly approach
In training programs for supervisors and managers, they often advocate the importance of noting real facts. It is called documenting versus diagnosing. That is why a good place to begin would be making a list of the things you have noticed. These are usually called behavioural changes and will help you in planning how to deal with dementia denial.
Typically, they involve memory loss, mood swings and odd behaviour. That is why it is important to broach the subject very gently and very diplomatically. Be prepared for an angry reaction. Also be prepared for tears because the truth can sometimes be painful to hear. Have the box of tissues and a nice cup of hot tea handy.
Whilst memory lapses are very common amongst people of all ages, they become pronounced in dementia. They may even already be aware of it themselves and be too anxious to bring it up. Typically the short-term memory seems to be affected first. Therefore, you will notice a discrepancy in that area. They might begin to talk about things that happened predominantly in the past. They might begin to constantly relive childhood and teenage-hood events. Conversely, they might start forgetting what happened today or yesterday. Those would-be signs to look for.
When we think of mood swings, we generally think of happy versus sad. And of course that is one of the signs. But it is not the only one. Your elderly loved one may go from anxiety to optimism. Also, they may begin to laugh when they should cry and vice versa when watching something on television. Depression is the next on the list. They may be depressed for no evident reason. That is because the brain is imagining things that are not there. Never be critical or harsh as they will not help. Remember, whatever is happening in their brain is outside of their control.
Odd behaviour is probably best described as outside of their character. A normally gentle person may suddenly display aggressive behaviour. They might begin hitting people whereas they never did so in the past. Also, some people may begin using abusive language, even the use of profanity, that is totally out of character for them. The root is often frustration as they struggle to cope with the changes they are experiencing. Other signs to look for are indecency of dress and sexually inappropriate behaviour. They are caused by a loss of inhibition, which they are unaware of.
The inability to control these urges must be very painful for them. Always remember that you are not instigating these behavioural changes. However, patience is required, because responding in kind would only serve to upset them more. Furthermore, they may be experiencing fear as they contemplate their future with a brain that appears to be playing tricks on them. The reason for this fear will be that they are experiencing good and bad days.
The good news is that you are there to help your elderly loved one through it all. Join them in talking about the past. Bring out the photographs and the videos of family weddings and celebrations. There is no need to mention how long ago they took place. That is irrelevant. Play the music you know they love, even if it was from the Second World War. If you do everything you can to keep them happy it will go a long way towards helping them to remain positive. If they know that you are okay with the changes happening to them they will accept them too. Here is a helpful link with a strong message: https://vic.fightdementia.org.au
For more information ring the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.