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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 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.

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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

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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..

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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

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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

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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

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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?

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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

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

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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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Me and my family are concerned my nannan is showing signs of Lewy Body Dementia and has done for quite some time now. She lives with my grandad who refuses to accept that she isn’t herself anymore and won’t have her assessed as he’s worried she will be taken into residential care. We’ve explained that none of us want that to happen and he’s more than capable of looking after her but for her sake we need to know what we’re dealing with so we can put strategies in place. Is there a way of having her assessed without my grandads consent? He’s her next of kin, attends every appointment with her and speaks on her behalf the majority of the time.

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Hello Bex. Thank you for getting in touch.

It sounds like a really challenging situation for you and your family.

First, we would strongly recommend speaking with one of our dementia advisers by calling the Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. This is a great way to get dementia information, support and advice specific to your family's situation. (More information about the support line, including opening times, can be found here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line)

In case it's useful, we have information on our website about Lewy Body dementia, also known as dementia with Lewy Bodies (https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/types-dementia/dementia-wi…). This is also available as a downloadable 12-page PDF (https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/sites/default/files/2019-09/what_is_demen…).

Our factsheet, which is titled 'How the GP can support a person with dementia', has a section on whether a GP can discuss concerns with carers: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/help-with-dementia-care/gp-sh…

It includes the following:

'Sometimes carers or those supporting the person with dementia want to speak to the GP about the person. For example, someone might want to talk to the doctor about their partner’s memory problems.

'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.

'They should listen to any concerns that carers, relatives, friends and others close to the person have, because this information may help their patient – the person with dementia. However, the doctor should make it clear that they may tell the person with dementia. The doctor is also responsible for considering how the person with dementia might feel about others sharing concerns and information with the GP.

'It can help if the person with dementia has already had a chat with their GP about information they would like shared, who to share the information with, and in what circumstances. This way everyone has a clear idea of what the person with dementia wants.'

This information and more is available within our 20-page factsheet, which is free to download: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/sites/default/files/pdf/factsheet_how_the…

You can also order printed copies of our resources to be delivered to your door: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/form/order-free-publications

Lastly, you may benefit from talking with other people affected by dementia within our online community, Talking Point. Feel free to browse and read others' experiences, or create an account to reply and connect with others. You may find similar situations to yours and your grandparents' shared there: https://forum.alzheimers.org.uk/

Remember to call the support line on 0333 150 3456 if you need to speak with someone about this, Bex.

We hope this is useful.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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Due to Covid, we waited almost a year to get a referral to the local memory clinic. My mother refused to see them and cancelled the appointment 3 times. They eventually came to her house to do an assessment with me present. My mother was very distressed and angry when she couldn’t answer the questions. The nurse doing the assessment didn’t seem to be able to cope with the situation and left. She phoned me to say that my mother did have cognitive impairment ( she scored 16/30 on a Cambridge assessment) but she couldn’t make a diagnosis of dementia, only a psychiatrist could do that. There is no way that my mother would agree to see anyone else. I feel as though that was our chance at diagnosis which has now gone. I’m not sure where that leaves us. My mother lives alone, I am only 10 miles away but have caring responsibilities for my sick husband.

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Hi Beverly,

It sounds like you've been going through a really challenging time. We'd recommend calling our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456 for advice on the next steps. Our trained dementia advisers can listen to the situation with your mother and provide 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 useful to join our online community, Talking Point, where carers and other people affected by dementia can share their stories and receive support. It could be a great place for you to speak with others who may have been in similar situations: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/dementia-talking-point-our-on…

We hope this helps, Beverly.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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My mother has dementia and I'm trying to find out the best way to get power of attorney over her since I know she will not do it willingly what are my options

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Hi Tonya,

We're really sorry to hear about your mother, this must be a very difficult time for you.

We'd recommend calling our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456 to speak to our dementia advisers. They can listen to you, and provide information, advice, and support specific to your situation. The support line is available seven days a week: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

You might also be interested in looking at our useful resources about making a Lasting power of attorney: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/legal-financial/lasting-power…

We hope this helps, Tonya.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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My father has become more aggressive and argumentative of late. I’m not sure of memory loss but he is losing track of reality He has always had a tendancy to be like this but unfortunately his behaviour is getting worse to the point where I find it too upsetting to call or visit him. My mother is very frustrating because she will not acknowledge my father’s worsening behaviour and can also be rude and nasty and in complete denial that she should be helping and encouraging my father to find out if he needs help. I work in a care setting and know the earlier he gets help the better it will be for everyone.

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Hi Tina

We're sorry to hear about the situation with your parents, it must be a stressful time for you.

Denial about the progression of dementia is common. If the person with dementia is in denial, their carer or partner may simply agree with them, to avoid having to talk to the person about their need for support. Being in denial may also help someone cope with a very distressing situation and give them time to accept reality.

When people affected by dementia disagree on the decision to move into residential care, it can be very frustrating. You may find it helpful to talk about your situation with our dementia advisers, who can listen to you and provide relevant information, advice, and support. You can call the Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 456, and learn more about it here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

We also have some information that you may find helpful to read, including our factsheet on dementia, denial, and lack of insight. You can read this online, download, or order a print copy here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/help-dementia-care/understand…

We hope this helps Tina. Please do call the support line if you'd like to speak to one of our advisers.

Thanks,

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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My mother in law has dementia. My father in law is her main carer. They always used to come and visit every sunday. Be it for dinner or just coffee and cake. The last few weeks however sjes been refusing to come over. My father in law finds it very frustrating as itsa break for him too.
Does anyone have any advice.
Many thanks

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My Mum has recently had a very sudden change in behaviour and memory issues. My Dad wants to get an urgent assessment of her situation (since is not mobile / suffers from COPD) but the GP Practice is saying they need her consent..... which she won't give... So how can he progress this without being check mated by GP Receptionists !? Terribly frustrating...

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I am having an extremely similar issue. Its to the point where we can't leave her alone at all anymore and she is in complete denial. But she refuses to let the Doc speak to us. What do we do in this situation?

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Please do call our advisers, Katie - they're here seven days a week to provide dementia information and support. The support line number is 0333 150 3456 and you can find the opening hours here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

You might also benefit from visiting our online community, Talking Point, to speak with more people who may have experienced similar issues: https://forum.alzheimers.org.uk/ It's free and open day or night.

We hope this helps for now, Katie.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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My 94 year old mum who lives with me suffers with mixed dementia. I have few serious difficulties with her taking daily prescription medication, eating, sleeping or other everyday activities. However, she requires AMD eye injections on a 1-2 monthly basis. I have power of attorney for my mum on health matters but the hospital still seem to be keen to get mum to give her consent to have these injections and until recently appear to not fully appreciate the need to fast track dementia patients (though I appreciate this is very difficult when their are so many elderly people who fall into this category). Unfortunately recently my mum refused one of her AMD injections after being kept waiting for a very long time at the hospital for treatment. My mum was very tired on this occasion exacerbated by the time she got to the treatment room following various pre injection checks and said when she finally got to the room where they give the injections all she wanted to do was to have a cup of tea and go home. This was extremely frustrating because they had done everything at that stage barring give the actual injection which literally takes 20 seconds to administer. The eye hospital in question has now kindly agreed to reschedule her eye injection (they couldn’t slot her in later that day) and get her seen first thing in the morning without hopefully any hold ups next time. Is there anything more I can do to increase the chances of her accepting these injection? She stands to lose significant vision in her right eye if I have to stop taking her to the eye hospital which will of course impact markedly on her quality of life.

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Hi David,

We're sorry to hear about your mum, and the challenges you're having with making sure she gets her eye injections. It must be a very difficult and frustrating time for you both.

We'd recommend calling our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456 to speak to our dementia advisers. They can listen to your situation in more detail, and provide dementia information, advice, and support specific to you. They're available seven days a week: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

We hope this helps, David.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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Dad is 89 and was diagnosed with Alzheimers and vascular dementia around 3 years ago. My sister has been going to him every day to make his lunch, do chores, shopping etc for about 2 years. He lives alone following mums death in 2014. I live in France and have rung him every day since mum died. 6 weeks ago he fell in his lounge, alone, but managed to call my sister. Paramedics took him to hospital. He had broken ribs and a collapsed lung. He has had 2 bouts of pneumonia during this time. After 4 weeks in hospital he was sent to an assessment home. He had 3 falls in a week and ended back in hospital again. He insists on going home but we believe he is no longer safe on his own. He refused carers. He always says he can manage but he can’t. He can barely walk and cannot remember if he has eaten/ drunk anything. He is losing weight rapidly and looks so skinny for him. We have a lasting power of attorney but only for finances. We have found a lovely care home for him, especially for Alzheimers/dementia. How on earth do we persuade him it is for his own safety and well being? Prior to recent events he was phoning my sister and myself at all hours of the day and night saying he didn’t know where he was, or what he was supposed to be doing and where is mum? We both have ansafone message recordings of these calls if people don’t believe us. We just want Dad to be safe and well cared for.

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Hi Mandy,

We're sorry to hear your dad has been having such a difficult time. This sounds really stressful for you both.

The decision to move into residential care is often difficult, so you may find it helpful to talk this over with our dementia advisers. They can listen to you and learn more about your dad's situation, then give relevant information, advice and support. You can call the Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 456, and learn more about it here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

We also have some information that you may find helpful to read, including our factsheet 'Care homes: When is the right time and who decides?'. You can read this online, download, or order a print copy here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/help-dementia-care/care-homes…

Hope this helps Mandy, and please do call the support line if you'd like to speak to one of our advisers.

Thanks,

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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NOT SURE ABOUT MY DAD HE IS 89 AND FORGETTING TO PAY BILLS AND SAYING HE PAID THEM I TRY TO APPROACH SUBJECT BUT HE GETS VERY ANGRY I AM THE PERSON WHOM TAKES CARE OF EVERYTHING WHEN HE PASSES HHE HAS A WILL BUT I EXPLAINED I WOULD TAKE ALL THE PRESSURE OFF OF HIM IF HE CAN'T DO IT WE WHERE SUPPOSE TO GET POWER OF ATTORNEY BUT HE SAYS CAUSE I'M THE ONE RESPONSIBLE FOR EVERYTHING WHEN HE PASSES WHICH IS STATED IN THE WILL WE DO NOT NEED POWER OF ATTORNEY

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Hello Linda,

Please call one of our dementia advisers on the Dementia Connect support line: 0333 150 3456

They will listen to the situation with your dad and be able to provide you with dementia information and advice specific to both of your needs. (More information about the support line, including opening times, here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line)

We hope this helps.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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