Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is hard. But what if the person you are caring for doesn’t believe they are sick? The damage that occurs in the brain can cause people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia to refuse the reality that they are ill. This is called anosognosia, and it can create many challenges for both seniors and their caregivers.
Anosognosia is the “lack of awareness of impairment,” and it may affect up to 81% of people with Alzheimer’s. When someone has anosognosia, the changes in their brain make it impossible for them to understand they are cognitively impaired.
It’s important to note that anosognosia is different than denial. With denial, a person is aware they have dementia but refuses to accept it. With anosognosia, a person is unable to understand there is something wrong with them.
Anosognosia can be frustrating for both seniors and their families. While caregivers want nothing more than to help, their senior loved one lacks the ability to understand why they should accept help. Those with anosognosia may even try to complete tasks that put their health at risk. Many caregivers find that communication between them and their loved one usually leads to an argument. They are left feeling defeated, anxious, and unsure how to manage their loved one’s disease.
5 Ways to Cope with Anosognosia
- Don’t try to convince them.
It’s normal to want to convince a loved one with anosognosia of their disease. But it’s important to accept that they might not understand no matter how much proof you show them. The damage that dementia causes to their brain limits their capacity to perceive and acknowledge that they have a disease.
- Don’t take anything personally.
When your loved one says or does something hurtful, remember it’s the disease causing them to act out of character. Like most advice, this is easier said than done. Try to remember that their condition will likely cause a lot of arguments. Save your battles for the ones that can affect their safety.
- Be mindful of how you say things.
Even though dementia may cause your loved one to say hurtful words to you, it’s crucial that you don’t follow the same pattern. Communicate with empathy and help in a way that lets them feel like they are in control. For example, “Let’s cook dinner together tonight” is often better than saying “I’ll cook because it’s not safe for you to be in the kitchen alone.”
- Be okay with stretching the truth.
As a caregiver, your job is to keep your loved one safe. This means you may have to stretch the truth to protect them from harm or becoming overly anxious. Don’t feel guilty if you have to refer to their medications as vitamins if it’s the only way they will take them or if you have to “lose” the keys to prevent them from driving.
When Anosognosia Becomes Too Much
Caring for a loved one with anosognosia requires lots of patience and hard work. Don’t feel guilty if the job becomes too much to handle. Often, help from professionals, like the caregivers in memory care communities, can improve the quality of life for both you and your loved.
Memory Care at Heritage Senior Communities
Heritage Senior Communities provides specialized dementia care in Michigan. We invite you to stop by for a tour to learn how we care for seniors with dementia.