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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.

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My mother in law has health problems and early dementia. She is staying with us right now and I have been helping her. She came here after a recent hospital stay that seemed to speed up the dementia symptoms we had been starting to see. She repeats herself, doesn't always remember to eat or change her clothes, and gets confused. She does remember some things but very sporadic and repeats herself all the time and doesn't know it. However she is insisting she wants to go home. Neurologist has said she should stay where she is until she has some tests and sees them again. But she is adamant she is going home. We have power of attorney but not guardianship. It would be unsafe for her to go home, but she can be nasty and stubborn (worse now with dementia). She believes she will get better and no matter what we tell her she believes dementia is associated with falling and she hasn't had any more "episodes.". We are at a loss and no idea what to do. We know if she goes home to her condo it will result in her probably going back to the hospital. We have suggested assisted living which would be best for her but she wants nothing to do with that. She doesn't care what her doctors say, she wants to go home and she is 75 and should be allowed to do so. Any advice on what we should do?? This is so stressful.

Hi Ginger,

We're sorry to hear this - it sounds like a really difficult time for you and your family.

If you are based in the UK, we recommend speaking with one of our dementia advisers to discuss the situation. They will be best placed to provide you with advice and support. Please call our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. (More information on opening times: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/dementia-connect-support-line)

If you're based in the US, please contact the Alzheimer's Association helpline: https://alz.org/help-support/resources/helpline

Or if you're based in Canada, please contact the Alzheimer's Society of Canada helpline: https://alzheimer.ca/en/Home/ContactUs

Wishing you all the best,
Alzheimer's Society blog team

Just had a conversation with my husband about dinner. He said it needed soy sauce. I asked him if he had gotten the soy sauce out. He said no soy I went to get it out of the cabinet. It was not their. I asked again about the soy sauce and he denied that I asked him that., instead insisted that I asked about bowls. My teenage son was standing next to him and heard the whole conversation. Then my husband accused me of using word games to confuse him. I have been in the care giving business for most of my life I don’t play games like that. He has taken me off the list to speak to his doctors. His reason is because I lie about him, I am mean and hateful. I won’t even list the awful things he says to me. With out his convent I can not do anything but my son and I can’t take much more of this. I am going to start recording every conversation maybe I will get someone to believe me and I can get the help he needs.

I am so sorry that you are struggling like this. Please do remember that even if your husband has removed the authorisation for you to speak to his Dr about him, that only covers what the Dr can tell you. It doesn’t cover what you can tell the Dr. So you could write to the Dr giving your concerns with examples of unusual behaviour. You should also make an appointment with your Dr to discuss how you are feeling - rundown, tired, unable to cope with the changes etc, as this will also help. They can then speak to him when he next goes in (they can call him for a check up) to see whether or not he needs to have an assessment.
Please also remember that whilst your husband may be being nasty to you it is not necessarily his intention to be. It’s a fairly normal behaviour for someone whose mind is changing and it could either be that that part has changed or that they truly do not remember things which happen, or that they are so frightened about those changes they deny things. You may feel alone but I promise you are not. This is a common part of the dementia process and you need support from others around you and the medical profession for a diagnosis.
It’s not an easy journey and I wish you well in your next steps and beyond. One thing at a time though.,

I'm happy that this exist for people that is struggling for families or our love ones who are going through this! My husband has been diagnosis with early stages of dementia, after the doctor told us, he never brought it up again until the doctor called to schedule another nuro appointment. Then my husband said to me; that he don't want to go to that appointment or take medication of any kind for his brain. All I can do is being here for my husband throughout the process an also mention to what he said with his healthcare Provider.

My mum was diagnosed with vascular dementia almost 2 years ago. She has never believed in taking medication., she thinks that taking coconut oil , krill oil and drinking water are going to help her. She is in denial. Says she is taking her medication but 90% of the time is throwing it away. She is very aggressive and controlling and she sees a member of her family every day for several hours at a time but it is never enough.
Don’t know what way to turn now. If we suggest anything… I’m not ready for that. Or I’m not old, don’t put me in that category

My mother in law refuses all and any help. She is verbally aggressive and gets very angry. She lies to all her children and her forgetfulness is very bad so know one knows the truth or what is going on with her. She refused to wear her personal alarm and never leaves the house. We are all at our wits end and not sure what to do.

Hello Sue,

We're sorry to hear your mother-in-law is refusing help and behaving aggressively.

We have some information on our website about aggressive behaviour that you may find helpful: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/symptoms-and-diagnosis/sym…

You can also talk to one of our dementia advisers if you need support. Please call our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. Some more details about the support line (including opening hours) here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

We hope this helps, Sue.

Alzheimer's Society website team

My father has been living with us for over six years now, because he had been leaving the gas on (lit and unlit) so we decided it may be time to have him with us. He continued to do this even in his new home and with the change to electric hob the danger was no longer there, even though it was a fight, he does not like change as do any older people.
He praises the new hob, especially because of the safety measures it provides, such as turning itself off. My husband and I want him to remain independent with daily tasks as making breakfast but this was a challenge because he had the mental disposition that he was owed the service and sat waiting for it all to be done for him, eventually after much diplomacy he gave in with much huffing and defiance to making his own breakfast.
We have now after 6 years had many personality issues with him, myself and my husband are mild tempered and struggle with confrontation, but without fail we have had to deal with the atmosphere of a dominant Man, proud and despises any criticism, denial of anything, from dirty shoes, poo on everything to erratic driving. He has a very clever answer to everything, how can I win? I don't argue I reason.
But how do you reason with an unreasonable person....
He is confused about many things, but if it interests him he focuses.
I've left many areas of concern out, including hygiene, driving issues such as righting of a car, incurring speed ticket, being reminded and stopped by police for not wearing a seat belt, not locking front door and even leaving the keys in the front door, sometimes the door left open., leaving taps running... The list goes on.
My main worry is what do I do when he won't comply and thinks he is fine, he even tells friends all his woes but obviously one sided. I would never say to his friends how he is because he has his dignity... I do not want to take this away or build any barriers. He does not want further tests for dementia and he insists on continuing to drive, assuring me he is driving better than ever.
Is anyone else experiencing this, are you living with your parent/parents with this problem.
I really don't know how to tell someone with efficiency who has short term memory loss, without causing more anxiety.

Hi Veronica - thanks for getting in touch.

It sounds like you'd benefit from speaking with others who have been or are currently in similar situations. Within our online community, Talking Point, carers and other people affected by dementia share experiences, advice and offer support. You can browse the community without registering, or sign up to become a member: https://forum.alzheimers.org.uk/
It's free to use, and open day or night.

In the meantime, we have some information on practical tips for supporting someone with memory loss, which you may find helpful: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/symptoms-and-diagnosis/sym…

We also have guidance on making decisions and managing difficult situations, including around driving: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/daily-living/making-decisions…

These pages offer general advice, but you can also speak with a dementia adviser about your father's situation by calling our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. Find more details about the support line, including opening hours, here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

We hope this is helpful, Veronica.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

Hi I am the carer for my husband - he has just had the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s 6weeks ago- we have been chasing this for over 2 years - we thought it would be vascular dementia because if his issues from diabetes but it’s not and is Alzheimer’s
My question is please - he has reached the stage where he doesn’t go out, can’t do the simplest of tasks, forgets to wash. Personal hygiene etc - but is refusing any help - giving excuses , plausible answers and saying I am constantly criticising him - I try desperately hard to keep a happy tone of voice but my daughter is saying I am critical -
The only food he makes himself is croissants - looses track of time
How can I encourage him to accept help more graciously ? And us not get into a fight (disagreement) all the time ?
Many thanks fir all help x

My mother has Alzheimers that was diagnosed early 2020 and prescribed medication. She lives alone independently and is physically very fit. She has deteriorated rapidly in the past couple of months and forgets to take her meds - and we think eat and drink if family don't go in every day, which we can't always.
We're now looking at getting carer to go in each day, but she's taken to not opening her front door and is very anti anyone going in the house. We've tried to calmly talk to her and even tell her that all over 75's get this help from the government as a thankyou! That hasn't worked.
What can we do now? I understand that even if its to her detriment in refusing help, the law is in her court (we do have LPA). I fear that she is going to rapidly go downhill and at some point get sectioned and put into care. We ant to avoid this obviously.
What can we do? And if we can't get her to accept a carer, if she reaches a point we feel she's a danger to herself and does need to be in care, how do we do that?

Hello Chris, thank you for your comment.

We're sorry to hear about your mother's diagnosis and that her condition had deteriorated. It sounds like a very challenging time. Please know that you are not alone, and we are here for you if you need someone to talk to.

You can call our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456 to speak with one of our trained dementia advisers. They are here to listen to you, understand your situation and provide you with support. More details about the support line (including opening hours) are available here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

You might also find it helpful to talk to others who have been or are in similar situations. Within our online community, Talking Point, carers and other people affected by dementia share experiences, advice and offer support. You can browse the community or sign up to become a member: https://forum.alzheimers.org.uk/

We hope this helps, Chris. Please do call our support line for more advice and support.

Alzheimer's Society Website team

My mother has dementia. She very forgetful repeats herself all the time forgets appt. gets. lost driving places. argues with me all the time. stays up all night cat naps all day. calls me at work 3-4 times a day over the same thing. I have tried to talk to her primary Dr. he says she is fine everyone is noticing the problem my hands are tied I need help I am the only living child. She has called my place where I work and told them I was in the hospital and my cowoekers where looking right at me.

Hi Dana,

We're sorry to hear about your mother. This sounds really difficult for you, but please know that we're here for you.

We'd recommend calling our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456 and speaking with one of our dementia advisers. They can answer any questions you might have and provide dementia information and support. More details about the support line (including opening hours) are available here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

You might also find it helpful to speak with other people who are going through similar situations. Within our online community, Talking Point, carers and other people affected by dementia share their experiences and offer each other support and advice. It's open day or night, and free to use. You can view or join our online community here: https://forum.alzheimers.org.uk/

Hope this is helpful, Dana, and please do call the support line for more support.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

Hello, my grandmother is living with us and her dementia is becoming too difficult to realistically manage at home. We have spoken to her about moving into a care home but she refuses and is in denial about or doesn't understand how much care she needs. My Dad is too scared of upsetting her to put her in a care home but is reaching exhaustion (as is the whole family). What can we do to manage it or to convince my Dad that this really isn't sustainable?
Thanks

Hello there,

We're really sorry to hear about your grandmother - it sounds like a very difficult time for you and your family.

We have some information on when and how to make the decision to move into a care home that you might find useful, which you can read online here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/help-dementia-care/care-homes…

You can also download a free copy of our information here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/sites/default/files/2018-12/476LP%20Care%…

If you'd like further information, please know that you and your dad can always call our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456 to speak to one of our dementia advisers. They can listen to you, and provide advice and support specific to your grandmother's situation. You can find details about the support line (including opening hours) here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

We hope this helps. Wishing you all the best.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

My father in law is 75. He is beyond knowing he is sick. He refuses to go to the doctor and can not understand much anymore. For example, he put dog food in the bird feeders and bird seed in the hummingbird feeders. He still drives which scares me to death. He got lost once, at night, and ended up 50 miles from his home. He is a chain smoker and is barely coherent most of the time. I'm not sure how to get him diagnosed in order to get help for my mother in law. Any help you can give is appreciated.

Hi Lisa,

We're really sorry to hear about your father, this must be such a difficult time for you and your mother-in-law.

We'd strongly recommend speaking with one of our dementia advisers through our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. They will be able to listen to your situation and offer further information, advice and support. You can find more information about our support line (including opening hours) here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

We hope this helps, Lisa. Please do call our support line for advice.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

My mum is 88,and lives alone. Despite increasing confusion,she refuses point blank to have any kind of help,such as help in the home-she has developed increased confusion about using the washing machine for example .The situation has reached the point where when I'm at work(-Im a nurse and work 12.5 hour shifts) in spite of my partner patiently telephoning at the usual time each day to explain where I am, she makes countless telephone calls and leaves endless answerphone messages,and
gets very cross at times and even shouts at the automated messages..
!Its a very difficult,worrying and stressful situation,and I'm wondering where to turn..

Hi Helena,

We're sorry to hear about this - it sounds like a difficult and stressful situation.

We'd strongly recommend calling our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. You'll be able to talk to one of our trained dementia advisers, who can provide information, advice, and support specific to your mum's situation.

You can find more details about the support line (including opening hours) here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

We hope this helps, Helena. Please do call our support line for advice.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

My step-grandfather has all of the sudden started worrying about rental house he has not owned in over 20 years. He keeps being up that he worried about someone coming and putting us out of the house we live in now, he built the house in the 60's and had always owed it. I feel bad because I can see actual worry in his eyes, and if you know him you'd know he has never down emotion of any kind for as long as I've know him. I have tried talking to him and explaining even show him papers of ownership for his house, taking him to his old rental houses to show him that atleast one is no longer even there and he doesn't know the people living in the other. I want to try everything before increasing or putting him on more meds. Please help with any advise, if there is any

Hi David,

We're very sorry to hear about your step-grandfather, it sounds like you are both going through a difficult time.

If the advice in this article isn't helping, we'd strongly recommend speaking with one of our trained dementia advisers through our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. They can listen to you and provide information, support and advice on your step-grandfather's situation.

You can find more details about the support line (including opening hours) here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

We hope this helps, David. Please do call our support line for advice.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

My mom blames everyone except herself for her problem. She blames my son for going into her house and moving things. My son doesn’t go near her house. He works 2 jobs. We fight if I disagree with her and if I agree with her. She is 87 years old. I don’t know how to handle her. If I’m nice she blames me for faking it. She says I don’t love her that no one does. I don’t know what to do. I took her debit cards and medical cards from her. I’m confused on how to handle her. I Love my mom and it’s breaking my heart to see a strong woman turn into this other person. I can’t get her to go to a doctor. She will not go. She hasn’t been to a doctor in over a year but she says I took her a couple weeks ago. Someone got into her house and stole her underwear then the next day someone bought a bunch of new pairs. What do I say to something like that?

Hello Judy,

We're really sorry to hear about your mother - it sounds like a really difficult time for you and your family.

If you are based in the UK, we recommend speaking with one of our dementia advisers to discuss the situation in more detail. They will be able to provide you with advice, information and support. Please call our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. (More information on opening times: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/dementia-connect-support-line)

If you're based in the US, please contact the Alzheimer's Association helpline: https://alz.org/help-support/resources/helpline

Or if you're based in Canada, please contact the Alzheimer's Society of Canada helpline: https://alzheimer.ca/en/Home/ContactUs

We hope this helps, Judy.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

I would see if you could possibly get a doctor to make a housecall

I would reach out to her doctor and request a referral for Palliative Care. A NP can come to the home to see patient and write all orders, depending on where you live. Home Health could assist with evaluation and treatment. Please reach out to her provider. There are many things that can be done in the home to assist.

Where is the real, hard core help for people with dementia that results in a stubborn inability to cooperate with anything from diagnosis to treatment? One knows there may be medications that can help symptoms and improve quality of life but you can't fore someone to allow the diagnostic testing like NRI or PET scans. Talking nice and having patience doesn't cut it.

I am in a similar situation my husband has Lewy Body dementia and he's in deep denial he's a route salesman Deliver bread in a big truck and the doctor threatened to take his license but she's giving him time to handle his business but he says it's not anything wrong with him he hadn't had any accidents and the doctors don't know what they are talking about but I see the change in him everyday and it hurts because he can't see it don't want to hear it or accept it now he wants to get a lawyer to prove nothing is wrong

My Father in Law has been getting very confused and forgetful lately, he has had an mri scan and a ct scan, also a visit from the memory nurses and we are awaiting the gp's referral to the memory clinic. Our issue is he is losing things abd getting very confused even more so lately but refuses to accept he has a problem. But as soon as he has lost something or something happens his first port of call is his daughter and she is struggling with the responsibility and needs help. My husband and I are willing to help to take some of the burden but we are never the first to hear if he has a problem and we only find out after the fact. What can we do to help?

Hi Kathy,

Sorry to hear about this situation with your father-in-law.

It's great that you've already been to the GP as that will help him get the support he needs.

In the meantime, we have some information on losing items on this page which you may find helpful: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/symptoms-and-diagnosis/sym…

We also have a page on how to offer help to somebody who refuses to accept there may be a problem: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/blog/how-offer-help-someone-dementia-who-…

These pages offer general advice, but you can also call also speak to a dementia adviser about your specific situation by calling our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. You can find more details about the support line (including opening hours) here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

Hope this is helpful, Kathy.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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