What You Can Do if Someone Doesn’t Know They Have Dementia

anosognosiaIf you are caring for someone with dementia, have you found yourself dealing with anosognosia as well?

(Anosognosia is the lack of awareness that there is cognitive decline in oneself.)

Not surprisingly, it is very difficult for caregivers and family members to make progress with a person’s illness when they are showing signs of anosognosia. Yet, the condition is alarmingly common. For example, after stroke, some studies show up to 77% of patients suffer anosognosia (at least temporarily). And it affects up to 81% of those with Alzheimer’s disease. (Source)

It’s important to learn that when something happens to damage the right part of the brain – such as a stroke or dementia – then “the left brain seeks to maintain continuity of belief, using denial, rationalization, confabulation and other tricks to keep one’s mental model of the world intact.” Anosognosia has long been recognized in individuals with strokes, brain tumors, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease according to the Treatment Advocacy Center.

What You Can Do

Trying to make someone with this problem understand that they have changed and need to accept new limits often is an exercise in frustration,” New York Times. 

The most effective caregiver strategy is to reduce the severity, seriousness, or painfulness of their situation. Don’t attempt to make the person understand over and over again. Instead:

  • Use positive language, be gentle, encouraging and empathetic about necessary tasks
  • Provide a structured schedule of tasks, personal care and down time, and make yourself or another caregiver available to help
  • Downsize any responsibilities that are unnecessary: sometimes a home health care aide or memory care is the answer
  • Work together with the person on necessary tasks such as cleaning or money management
  • Stay calm and focused on the other person when voicing concerns: articulate your thoughts in a subtle and positive light

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