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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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87 comments

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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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My wife was recently diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's at age 61. One of her telling symptoms is bad judgement. She has fallen for African phishing scams and simply cannot believe the scam emails are not true. Even when shown evidence the people and organizations are frauds. She is clever enough to find ways to access money which she sends via gift cards to the scammers. I have tried reason, coercion, scolding, loving and nothing works. Do you have a recommendation on how to address the problem with her so that she wants to modify her behavior? Nothing will change unless she wants to change. Thank you in advance. I am desperate.

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Hello, Bruce.
Thank you for getting in touch. This sounds like a really troubling time.
Action Fraud is the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cyber crime: https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/sign-up-for-action-fraud-alert Citizens Advice can also provide help with online scams: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/scams/get-help-with-online-s…
We recently published a blog post about coronavirus-related scams - there might be some information here that you find useful: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/blog/coronavirus-covid-19-scams-people-af…
We recommend calling our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. A trained dementia adviser can listen to your situation and provide ideas and support. You can read more about the support line (including opening hours) here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/dementia-connect-support-line
We hope this is helpful, Bruce.
-
Alzheimer's Society blog team

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Hi Bruce,
We had a similar problem. There is no conversation (loving, scolding or otherwise) that will help because they will not remember it the next time they are in a similar situation. For phone calls, we turned off the ringer and placed the message notification light so she would not see it. That way, we could monitor the answering machine. Any legitimate callers would leave a message and we could return those calls. The scammers either didn't leave a message or left one that we could easily delete.

Emails were an easier issue for us because my mom had stopped reading them. In your case, you may be able to block certain email addresses from her inbox. If you have a joint email account, or if you can get into her email, then you (or someone you designate) can login regularly to delete messages before she reads them.

You could also get a stash of expired gift cards so those are readily available for her to send off if she still gets into a situation where she wants to send someone money.

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My grandfather has dementia, he became a danger whilst driving and took family members to convince him to sell it, but he would only do so if it remained in the family.
My grandmother has recently passed away and he is obsessed with the will and money, he has more than enough savings and very little to pay, but cant grasp the concept of money worth, for example if he had £50k he thinks he has £500 or £5000.
Family members have identified he has approximately a 10minute memory span and gets fixated over situations. He also has obsessive behaviours ie the posessions are all his and keeps repeating it.
My concern is that the GP is doing very little to progress forward and has diagnosed as non vascular dementia.
When relaying a conversation he tells it a different way to it being said.
My grandfather has accused a family member of stealing money when they havent seen him.
He is vunerable and as such I am concerned he is becoming influenced by another member of the family who may take advantage with some of the posessions or even money, despite having a set will in place.
I would be grateful if you could offer some advice?

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Hi Charlotte,

Thanks for your comment. Really sorry to hear that you and your grandfather have been having a difficult time.

One of our trained dementia advisers can give support you with this - please call our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. You can talk to them so we can find out a bit more about your situation and provide ideas, information and advice. More details of the support line (including opening hours) are available here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/national-dementia-helpline

Hope this is helpful,

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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My mother is 86 and a Widow. She has been showing signs of dementia for some time now but denies everything. My sister and I were seeing her regularly but soon after lockdown we received a call from the police saying they had found her wondering dazed and confused, they brought her home and raised a safeguarding issue. I spoke to these people who said they could do an assessment for care etc but would cost mom lots of money as she owns her own home and savings. Mom is proud and would refuse anyone in her home and dosnt need a carer if we prompt her to wash, eat etc. Since the police incident she is scared to be on her own and has gone down hill. My sister is splitting her time staying at moms and then taking mom back to hers. She is not safe on her own now trying to walk out late at night, not recognising people etc.. Ideally we would like to sell moms house and my sisters combine the money to get a nice bungalow so we could all live together and help look after each other but although mom agrees one day she dosnt the next. We find ourselves in an impossible situation, she can't say with me as I have stairs which she can't manage and my sisters place is tiny and to small for all moms stuff permanently. Has anyone got any ideas? And how do we get help if she goes mad, at us if we even suggest a chat with the doctor!!

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Hi Helen,

Sorry to hear about your mother, that sounds like a really difficult situation.

You may find it helpful to speak to one of our dementia advisers. You can call our support line on 0333 150 3456 for information, advice and support: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/national-dementia-helpline

If your mother finds it difficult to talk about the symptoms she's experiencing, we also have some advice on this page which you may find helpful: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/blog/how-offer-help-someone-dementia-who-…

I hope this is helpful, but please do ring the support line for more tailored advice and support.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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Hello
My mother in law has displayed symptoms of dementia for some time exasperated by the lock down. Annie is 93 we are her carers not there 24/7 it’s becoming more and more worrying she will have a fall to as virtually blind. My trouble is my mother in law is in denial that she can’t look after hers self and my husband is in denial to.

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Hi Carolyn,

Sorry to hear about your mother in law, that sounds like a difficult situation.

We have some general advice on our website that you may find helpful, such as this page which outlines some of the steps you can take if you're worried about somebody's memory: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/symptoms-and-diagnosis/how…

If you're worried that your mother in law will have a fall, we also have some practical tips on avoiding this that you may find helpful too: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/staying-independent/stairs-re…

As your situation is complex, it could be a good idea to speak with one of our dementia advisers. You can call our support line on 0333 150 3456 and an adviser will be able to give you information, advice and support tailored to your situation. More details on the support line (including opening hours) can be found here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/national-dementia-helpline

Hope this is helpful,
Alzheimer's Society blog team

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Hi! My Dad passed away recently. My mom has vascular dementia. I would say moderate at this point. Her youngest, son, who has schizoaffective disorder had been living with them, not working, and financially supported by them. He has been taking care of mom for the past 5 months. I am her daughter and I have been helping him. I work full-time and also have mental illness for which I have been hospitalized 4 times. Our other brother also works full-time and has mental illness too. She agreed to live in an independent living facility. She has a beautiful studio apt and all her meals are served in dining room. All of us kids live within 5 miles of her place and at least 1 of us will b there every day. She's been there a week and has gone from extremely mad to sad. This is the best way we can help her. All of us in a supportive role. Non of us, with our mental illnesses can handle being her full-time caregiver. Any advice to help her adjust would be greatly appreciated. She knows she has memory issues, but thinks she can live by herself. She doesn't think we do anything to help her. We do everything for her from meds, to dr appts, to finances, to preparing food, laundry, etc., etc. At least, she listened to her Dr when he said she can't drive.

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Looking for help & advice please; my father is showing signs of dementia; confusion, memory problems, disorientation, falls however he won’t admit there is anything wrong and refuses to see a doctor. I have read all of your advice but cannot see persuasion as working as he flatly refuses. My mother has talked to her own doctor but has got nowhere. This is now affecting them both understandably and we really need some help. Thank you

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Hi there Bee,
Thanks for getting in touch. We're sorry to hear about this.
We really recommend either you or your mother speaking with one of our dementia advisers on 0333 150 3456. They can listen to your father's situation, provide advice and support. Our advisers are available seven days a week. You can find opening hours for our Dementia Connect support line here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/dementia-connect-support-line
We hope this helps, Bee.
-
Alzheimer's Society blog team

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My mother of 73 yrs has been suffering with memory issues for around five years now, I am not allowed to bring up the subject of dementia, yet since my father passed away from leukaemia in 2018 my mothers health is rapidly declining. Her memory loss is getting to the point that it got her a £70 parking fine, all because she couldn't remember the registration of her car for the carpark ticket machine. She's owned the car for nearly ten years. Twice in the last 3 months she has fallen out of bed and bashed her face so bad on the night stand that all down one side of her face and neck is black from bruising, this last time only happened 2 days ago. She can ask me a question and ask the same question 5 times more in less than 5 minutes. Her driving is erratic because shes so nervous and anxious, a number of times shes slammed the breaks on only to realise there is no other car in the vacinity. One time her brain froze at a junction and for around ten seconds she was stationary in the middle of the road. I was with her and I was scared for both of us. It was like a brain zap and then she was back in the moment. My son will not get in the car with her and is terrified she's going to crash and hurt us or even worse someone else. I am at such a loss, I want to support her yet she will not let me for fear, I believe, of losing her driving licence and the only independence she has left. Should I speak with her GP without her knowing? She would never give me permission if I asked. Any advice would be gratefully appreciated please.

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I have a 63 year old husband in the State of Michigan and have what is called here, medicaid, it is a set funding for our family because my husband just decided to quit supporting his family. I love him and care for him so much. His personality seems to becoming a personality of hate for me and his special needs son. I have family in Scotland. After my mother's death Oct. 27th 2018 and my husband of 35 years never showed any compassion or empathy for the loss of her or for the loss of both of my son' grandma. No Dr, after the 3rd try even cares. I do, he is my wonderful husband that needs to get an MRI test to find out exactly what is going on. But he won't.

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