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How to offer help to someone with dementia who doesn’t want it

Do you know a person with dementia or memory problems who is refusing offers of help? Here are a few ways to support someone who may be in denial about their situation.

It is common for someone living with dementia to deny that they are experiencing issues with their memory or other aspects of cognition.

This could be due to denial or lack of insight. Similar to denial, lack of insight means that a person with dementia is unable to recognise changes in their behaviour and personality.

Continued denial can cause problems in the person's future. They may refuse to accept help, there could be delays in starting or stopping medication, or they may continue to drive despite it not being safe for them to do so.

Offering help to someone with memory problems who may be in denial

Someone living with memory issues may deny that they’re experiencing problems. This can be frustrating, especially if you’ve been encouraging them to visit their GP for a memory test.

Denial may reflect that the person is feeling fearful and needs time to accept what is happening.

It is possible that they have some awareness of their cognition issues and may be feeling uneasy or anxious about this. They may also be fearful about the future.

They may feel – or think that other people may feel – a stigma about having a diagnosis of dementia.

Here are some ideas to consider when talking to someone about your worries. 

  • Broach the topic gently. It may help to remind them that memory issues don’t always point towards dementia.
  • Be kind and supportive during the conversation. Listen to their reasons and any fears they raise.
  • Let them know that you’re worried about them. Give examples of issues e.g. missing appointments, misplacing items, forgetting names.
  • Break down the larger issue into smaller ones. Pick one to focus on e.g. ‘I’ve noticed you’ve been forgetting names of friends. Maybe the GP will be able to help.’
  • Keep a diary of events as proof. This will help you show someone you’re worried about that you have ‘evidence’ for your worries. The diary will also support you both if you see a doctor as they may want to see a record of issues.
  • Turn the focus towards getting support for their friends and family e.g. ‘If you visit the GP, we might be able to get extra help that would give me a break...’

If their denial of the issue(s) continues, this may further delay receiving an official diagnosis. 

Offering help to someone with dementia who denies their diagnosis

Receiving a dementia diagnosis can be a daunting experience.

The person who has been diagnosed may feel a range of emotions, from sadness to disbelief to denial.

However the person feels about their diagnosis, when talking to them about how they’re feeling, try to stay calm – this may help calm them down, too.

Denial can be beneficial, as it can give someone time to process news and how they feel about it.

Giving the person time and space to think about their diagnosis and how they feel about it is a good way of approaching the situation.

If they continue to deny their diagnosis, you might start to feel frustrated or unable to help.

There are a few things you can do to support someone who is in denial about their dementia diagnosis or refusing to accept help.

  • Keep a diary of events – examples of issues, dates, times, locations – and what happened. This record can support you in approaching the person diagnosed with dementia if it feels appropriate, to show them you care and are concerned for them.
  • Find out more about local support groups and therapies. Attending these may help the person come to terms with their diagnosis. Talking and art therapies are popular choices.
  • Try to stay calm when talking about your concerns. Getting angry or upset can make conversations uncomfortable for everyone involved. The person you’re worried about may be more hesitant to talk to you in the future.

It's important to try talking to the person you're worried about, and encourage them to see a doctor themselves.

Where this doesn’t work, you might consider speaking to the person’s doctor yourself. In doing so, it is best to get the person’s consent, or at least inform them that you are going to speak to their doctor. It will then be for the doctor to decide whether they disclose the information to the person.

If you have a question about dementia, call our helpline to speak with our expert advisers, or join Dementia Talking Point to chat with other people in your situation.

Dementia Connect support line
Our dementia advisers are here for you.
Talking Point
Visit our online community to get advice, share experiences, connect.
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We moved to be near my MIL last year. We knew she was forgetting things and we honestly thought it was because her hearing is impaired. Only once we’d moved in did we see the full extent of her illness. She has her own house but will only sleep there. The FIL is great but he has his own home close by. It’s an odd relationship and it’s not made any easier because of her demanding controlling nature. At Christmas she begged the FIL to stay overnight with her. She now says he’s living in her house and she doesn’t know why! He stays will her all night and she’s up 5 or 6 times a night. She refuses to shower or change her clothes. She won’t let me into her house to get clean clothes for her or anything. She comes into my house about 11.15am every morning, she doesn’t know what day it is but she’s still good with time telling. She stays here all day. Saying things like she doesn’t watch tv but then sits in front of it all day... only allowing us to watch BBC1 all day. She has cheese on toast every day for lunch and will not have anything else. She takes about 5 hours to eat 2 slices of toast. I have to liquidise other food for dinner because she refuses to eat but she does at least get a few spoons of the mush down. She says she does all her own shopping, cleaning and gardening!!!! However, in reality she does nothing but sit in my house. She will not leave until 8pm and once we asked her to go at 7pm so we could organise for a new sofa coming the next day. She’s so selfish and will not be left alone for a minute. She follows me around the house and it’s worse than having a toddler. I have Fibromyalgia and find it more and more difficult trying to help my partner care for his mum. My partner works full time & we now rarely get any time together. My son also works full time and lives with us too. There are 4 adults providing 24 hour care for her but she says there’s nothing wrong with her. It’s mind blowing the stories she tells and we know most have no basis in reality. She won’t let us attempt to get any help or support and we’re all getting a bit fed up. We love her of course but it’s so frustrating trying to get her to do anything if she doesn’t want. She won’t allow us to get her GP involved. She said she wanted to change GP so she was at the same place as we are signed up to but then refuses when we try to fill out the form. I’ve had to help her sort out her bills and council tax but she then says she’s done it. She says she’s tidied up my house but she’s done absolutely nothing but sit in the chair. In her mind she’s still doing everything she did 30 yrs ago but the fact is she isn’t. We can’t get any help or support because she won’t let us. The decisions she makes change like the wind and then she forgets. She is simply not doing well at all and she’s very frail. We are at our wits end because it’s really difficult to try to care for someone who refuses to believe she has a problem! She forgets everything you tell her or if she remembers she gets it all confused and the delusions come into play. It’s really getting to a point where we all have a moan about it but can’t do anything to make it easier for us all. If adverts come through for nursing homes she accuses us of ordering them and she tells us she won’t go in any home because she’s not like the other old folk. There is just no real respite for any of us. She hasn’t had a shower since last summer, she does wash herself she says. She has had the same clothes on since Christmas and it’s now April. I try to offer to help her shower, we have a disabled access bathroom in our house but she refuses to have a shower. I say bring some clean clothes down and I’ll help you and get these ones washed. She refuses. She smells very bad but we can’t do anything because it would be most likely seen as abuse. It’s horrendous and COVID hasn’t helped. I don’t know how much longer we can cope with her. She has moderate to severe dementia from everything I’ve read up about the symptoms. We can’t get any help from any agencies because she doesn’t have a diagnosis. I don’t believe she has the mental capacity to deny medical treatment but without a diagnosis she’s deemed in law to have capacity. She forgets names all the time & even asked me how old her son was on his 50th birthday and then argued that he was only 20! It’s hard work and really frustrating because there is no days off from it. If anyone has any ideas to help us get her to the GP to get a diagnosis then we can progress from there. Thanks

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Hi there,

We are sorry to hear about the situation you and your family are going through.

You can speak with our dementia advisers on 0333 150 3456. They're available seven days a week to provide information, advice and emotional support: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

Some people also find it helps to talk with others who have gone through or are going through similar experiences. If you think this would help, you can visit our online community, Talking Point, for peer support: https://forum.alzheimers.org.uk/ It's free and open day or night.

We hope this helps for now.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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I’m going through similar problems with my partner. We are experiencing so many of these issues. Unfortunately, when her sons visited today after not seeing her during the shut down, they took her for lunch and made their own decision as to her condition for a 2-3 hour visit. When necessary she can put on a good, very temporary, front. When I tried to update them, they’d take their mom’s word over mine and they attributed what they saw as just some hearing difficulty and OLD AGE. Any possibility that she would believe my experiences with her for 50 years over them just was wiped out. And I do know what to look for having been trained and had my practice as an Occupational Therapist. I feel like they undermined the situation rather than contributing to some solutions.

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I sue aspinall would like someone to answer my question on alzimer my mum said I won't beable to go out now I've got alzheimer after she read her letter

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Hello Sue,

We'd recommend calling our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456 to speak to our dementia advisers. They can listen to the situation and provide dementia information, advice, and support. They're available seven days a week: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line If you'd prefer to contact them via email, please do so at [email protected]

We hope this helps.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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My mom has been diagnosed with dementia with lewy bodies. She is now starting to need things. I brought a commode for her as her toilet is down stairs. I was wondering could I get any help with a walking on wheels or do you just have to buy these things yourself. The doctors have prescribed tablets but I don't know what to do next. She lives on her own

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Hello Jane, thanks for getting in touch.

We'd recommend calling our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456 for dementia information, advice and emotional support specific to your mother's needs. Our advisers are here for you seven days a week: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

You might also benefit from talking with other people affected by dementia within our online community. Talking Point is free to use, and open day or night: https://forum.alzheimers.org.uk/ People use Talking Point to share their own experiences and talk about situations they are going through.

In the meantime, we have a booklet about ways to make the home dementia-friendly: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/publications-factsheets/makin…

You can also browse our Online Shop for daily living aids, which may be useful: https://shop.alzheimers.org.uk/daily-living-aids

We hope this is helpful.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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A dear friend has just been moved from an assisted living facility to his son's home waiting for placement in a nursing home. I have been a constant friend-- talking to John almost every day for the past 6 years. I asked his son to let me speak to John on the phone, but John refuses to talk to me or see me. I know I haven't done anything wrong-- how can I convince him to let me talk to him-- his son, his daughter-in-law and his daughter have all tried but he is adamant that he doesn't want to talk to me. We talked all last week before he moved and everything was fine.

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my father is awaiting for a decision if a facility can take him in . he recently broke his hip and has had surgery. Now he awaits in the hands of caretakers and strangers. I am so helpless to him at this point, but i do need some advice. can you help us?

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Hello Sherry,

Thanks for getting in touch. It sounds like you're going through a very stressful time.

Please know that our dementia advisers are here you. Call our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456 and our dementia advisers can listen to your father's situation and provide information and advice. The support line is available seven days a week: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

We hope this is helpful.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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Mum was diagnosed on December 2020, she is in denial. She got very upset after the call from the Adult Mental Health worker, crying saying she didn't need him telling her what to do or to attend groups, which at present isn't possible anyway, that she has her own friends who tell her there isn't anything wrong with her memory, not helpful.
Although there are 5 of us I am in her support bubble as I have POA for her finances and health. My eldest sister lives with mum but works.
Lockdown isn't belling as mum is a sociable person, enjoyed going out. She does try to go for a walk each day but has admitted asking someone the way home. Don't want to discourage her from walking is there something we can do to help her with this?

My sisters are all happy to help not sure what restrictions or rules they might break but worried about mums state of mental health.

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Hello Christine,

Thanks for your comment. We are sorry to hear about your mum's diagnosis. You might be interested in ordering or downloading The dementia guide, which is a useful resource after a recent dementia diagnosis: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/publications-about-dementia/the-dementia-…

We also have information specifically focused on activity ideas for people with dementia during coronavirus: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/coronavirus/activity-ideas-de…

We also have a page on providing support during coronavirus for a person with dementia who lives alone (https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/coronavirus/support-person-de…) as well as how to support a person who lives far away from you (https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/coronavirus/supporting-person…).

These are all part of our coronavirus support pages, which are kept up-to-date with the latest government guidelines: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/coronavirus

We also have a blog post about ways to exercise safely while staying at home - you may find this useful, too: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/blog/5-exercise-activities-dementia-coron… This includes a free, downloadable poster with tips for staying active at home (https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/sites/default/files/2020-05/Staying%20act…) as well as suggestions for seated exercises (https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/sites/default/files/2020-05/Seated%20exer…).

We'd recommend calling our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. Our dementia advisers can provide further ideas, give you dementia information and advice, and provide emotional support. More about our support line: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

You may find it helps to talk with other people who have gone through or are going through similar experiences. Visit our online community, Talking Point, for peer support: https://forum.alzheimers.org.uk/ It's free, and open day or night.

We hope this is helpful.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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I feel your pain, My 90 year old aunt has been diagnosed and due to her frailty is a rapid progression. It is a horrible disease, this is not my aunt, she lives in denial, trying to keep control, fabricates what she doesn’t remember, refuses to eat, other than sweets, and refuses care. It’s so sad, we are hitting crisis point. We have reached out for help, we are on our knees, at a loss to what to do next

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My sister was diagnosed with dementia in December 2020. She is in complete denial. She has an apartment in an independent senior living facility. She is constantly misplacing items that she thinks are being stolen. We have placed a lock on her closet door and the facility has installed a camera outside her door. She misplaces purses, shoes, jewelry, medication, etc. and believes she is being targeted by the workers . I hate to see her upset all the time. I have tried saying I understand, pointed out items she said were stolen that appear, change the subject- but she goes back to someone is robbing her blind. Any suggestions would be helpful. Thanks

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We have the same issue with my mother. She is even threatening to go to the police to report "the children" that are breaking in her house and stealing her things. She's written up a list of stolen items to give to the police and is daily demanding that my sister take her to the police station and "the children's" parents to confront them. Very frustrating because even when the items "re-appear" there's an explanation for how they were retrieved from "the children".

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I have the same problem with my mum, my dad has been moved to a care home after a stroke and mum has never been diagnosed with anything before (clearly my dad was doing everything for her). I'm going over there 1 -3 times every day and she keeps emptying out her purse and her bag and hiding things then thinks that someone has broken in and stolen things. She won't accept she may have forgotten where she puts things, even after I've managed to find most of the things. She then gets aggressive at me for saying bit may be her.

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My mum is forgetting things more and more as time goes by
She cannot sign her name because she can’t remember her signature, forgets her date of birth continuallly ask where her dog is even if it is near her feet, won’t put her bag down even at our house and she does this so she doesn’t have to ask where it is,
Our problem is she will not see a doctor not for this or anything
My question is is there a firm in Adelaide that can come to the house act like my or my dads friend and asses her like a o home doctor but not showing that you are a doctor
Please help

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Hello Natalie, thanks for getting in touch. We're sorry to hear you're going through such a challenging time.

Unfortunately we are unable to provide recommendations for firms that you're looking for. However, we would suggest contacting an organisation in Australia that may be able to give you support for you and your mum's needs.

Dementia Australia (https://www.dementia.org.au/support) have a National Dementia Helpline: 1800 100 500

Dementia Support Australia (https://dementia.com.au/services) have a number for 24-hour help: 1800 699 799

In the meantime, we do have information about denial (and lack of insight) that might be a useful read: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/help-dementia-care/understand…

We hope this is helpful for now.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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My grandad is getting worse by the day. He doesn't know the day, gets angry and frustrated really easily, walks up and down the bungalow. Looks for my nan when she's not in the same room. Forgets what he does in a room for. Talks to himself and does fast actions with his hands and when he looks at you he looks right through you. He opens the door every 5 minutes and looks through it. He doesn't remember anything from the present but his past he is really good at remembering. He asks the same questions over and over again and he has to be reminded to eat and drink. He refuses to go to the doctors and it's taking its toll on his wife and family. We don't know what to do as multiple times we have told his gp and they have said he needs to go himself. He is deteriorating really fast and he is still driving a car. There seems to be no help. He has recently been in the hospital due to passing out. We told them multiple times we think he has Alzheimer's or dementia and they clearly didn't listen as they left him to walk out of the hospital on his own after being discharged when we told them not to. We had to look for him and finally found him wondering around the carpark. I don't know what we should do because I feel it's going to take for something really bad to happen for people to listen to us.

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Hello Yasmine,

Thanks for getting in touch. We're very sorry to hear about your grandad's situation. This must be such a difficult time for you and your family.

The General Medical Council (GMC) helps to protect patients and improve UK medical practice. It produces clear guidance on confidentiality. This guidance states that a doctor should not refuse to listen to someone who is close to the patient on the grounds of confidentiality.

The GP should listen to any concerns that carers, relatives, friends and others close to the person have, because this information may help their patient.

You can read more about this within our guidance 'Can the GP share information with carers?' - https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/help-with-dementia-care/gp-sh…

The full factsheet, titled 'How the GP can support a person with dementia', is available to download as a PDF - https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/sites/default/files/pdf/factsheet_how_the…

In the meantime, please know that we are here for you. You can talk with one of our dementia advisers about the current situation with your grandad. They'll provide you with information and support. You can call our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456, but please do take note of Christmas opening hours: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

We also have an online community where people affected by dementia, such as family members, can share their own experiences and provide each other their own support, too. It's free, and open day or night: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/dementia-talking-point-our-on…

We hope this is useful for now.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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I had the same problem with my father. In the end I spoke to my own gp who said that she would always listen to family members in this situation. Her advice to me was that I should ask for him to be referred to a memory clinic.
I then called my father’s gp and requested this. Unfortunately his gp wasn’t very receptive to this so I went onto say that if this didn’t happen I would make a complaint against him and the practice.
My father then went for his third memory test at the surgery and a referral was made.
Not ideal to have to do this however I was listened to and my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

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My 42 years old sister started behaving strangely since beginning of this year.
She stopped neglecting herself, won't have a shower despite lots of encouragement, won't clean her household, stays in the dark with a little candle on, forgot how to access her bank account or pay any bills. She says can't sleep at night and she stands up most of the time, her legs began to swollen, she looks very sad and depressed crying at times. I have offered my help to speak with her GP but she refuses everything saying she will do in her own time, but she doesn't.
It has past more than 3 months since I discovered this and I am very worried and frustrated that this will get worse and worse.

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My mom is in the late stages of dementia. I have always been the caregiver while my Brother was the fun one. Due to covid she is locked in at the memory care. We visit thru a window. She lights up when she sees my Brother but acts mad at me.
Should I continue to visit or not. I hate upsetting her

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Hi Diane,

We are so sorry to hear about your mom and this difficult situation.

If you would like to speak with one of our dementia advisers who can give you advice and support on this situation, please do phone our support line on 0333 150 3456.

You may also wish to join our online community, Talking Point, where you can read other people’s experiences with dementia and you may find that someone has been through this same situation and is able to share their advice with you: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/dementia-talking-point-our-on…

Best wishes,

Alzheimer’s Society Blog Team

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My dad is still waiting a referral from the Dr to our local memory clinic. When we contacted the clinic they said it would be a 4 month wait !! My dad was assessed by his GP in April, the memory clinic received his referral beginning of July. He not on any tablets , as the GP says he needs another assessment by the clinic to see how bad he is. He is deteriorating some days ..ie by putting his tea in the sugar bowl to sweeten it. Why can’t the GP prescribe tablets ??

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Hi my dad got diagnosed 2 years ago. He's been seen twice by memory clinic he has vascular. Hes had nothing on no tablets . I don't even know what stage he's at. My mum isn't getting no support . It feels like because they are elderly no one is interested.

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My mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in July. She’s been prescribed Aricept and refuses to take it. She says unless her doctor says she needs the tablets she won’t take them. Her GP, community nurse, older adults mental health nurse and myself have all said she needs to take her meds but she refuses as she’s ‘ok’. Her decline has been marked since last November but due to lock down it took us until July to get the diagnosis. It’s compounded by the fact that my dad (who has also been tested but ok) says she’s gone too. It’s really difficult. I have Power of attourney but I’m really struggling. Unless my mum takes her tablets her decline will not slow down. She’s my dads carer as he has mobility issues so I worry about him. They both refuse to accept any care. When they need care it will be after a crisis and really hard to put in place

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Hi Suzanne, thanks for your comment.

Sorry to hear about your mum's diagnosis, this sounds really difficult for you.

As it's a complex situation, it might be a good idea to speak to one of our dementia advisers about it. You can call our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456 for information, advice and support: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

We also have a page on our website here which you may find useful: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/daily-living/refusing-to-take…

The information there is more generic, so please do call our support line if you'd like more support.

Hope this helps,

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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My sister is getting extremely forgetful. It is difficult for her to remember what decision she has made from one day to the next. When she talks to me, and I am already aware of the decisions she has made or the appointments she has made, it is as though these decisions or phone calls never happened. She also believes people are coming into her home when she is out and stealing items like her cosmetic bag, jewelry, dog collars and other items. Over time I have found many of the items that she believed were taken in unusual places in her home. I am very concerned for her and she refuses see a doctor about her forgetfulness and paranoia. I have tried talking with her and, of course, she gets very defensive. I am very concerned for her as she lives alone and is trying to take care of her finances. What, if anything, can I do to help her??

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Hi Laurel,

Thanks for your comment, and sorry to hear about your sister's recent memory problems.

This sounds like a difficult situation, so we'd strongly recommend talking to one of our trained dementia advisers, who can give information, advice and support. You can reach them by calling our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/national-dementia-helpline

I wasn't sure from reading your message whether your sister has already seen the GP. If not, there are also some tips on this page that you may find useful:
https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/symptoms-and-diagnosis/how…

Hope this helps - and please do call the Dementia Connect support line if you would like more support.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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My Auntie suffered a Mini Stroke approx 12-13yrs old, since then her memory has never been great, but approx 3yrs ago it became apparent that my Auntie was starting to show signs of Dementia
My Auntie has recently been diagnosed with Frontotemporal dementia, Unfortunately, the Doctor who saw my Auntie who was a Stand In, was abrupt & rude even though my Auntie’s note‘s advised of her Anxiety & Sensitivities to approach !!
My poor uncle & cousins are at their wits end, as My Auntie is still in denial even though her diagnosis was nearly a year ago & refusing to speak to any one who could help her, we her extended family are not supposed to know the situation even though it is so obvious when you are with them

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My mother has dementia and is hospitalized for a hip fracture. She’s refusing to participate in therapy because it’s painful, but working through the pain is the only thing that will help her heal. She can’t take meds for relaxation due to dementia and blood pressure issues. Any suggestions re: how to help her get through this? Many thanks.

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Hi Amy,

Really sorry to hear about your mother's recent injury. That sounds like a difficult situation for you both.

We'd really recommend speaking to one of our trained dementia advisers, who can give some ideas, advice and support. You can call our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456 and read more about it here:
https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/national-dementia-helpline

Hope this helps,

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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