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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.
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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.
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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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Me and my mum used to have a wonderful relationship up until last year. She is 85 and has vascular dementia /alzheimers diagnosed 5+ years ago,
Memory clinic kept track of her and tablets started last year. Mum was always kind, loving thoughtful, everything you wanted in a mum and she was my best friend. Shes been a widow at 50 since dad died at 50 so i always tried to made sure she was ok. roll onto present day. Mum has gradually got worse, in her behaviour towards me. She is abusive, aggressive and downright vile in what she says to me and my daughter.. Who also tries her best to help. She is in total denial about her problems and does everything herself. Facts are she does nothing. Keeps same clothes on for days, won't go in bath, urine incontinence, no idea about money... The list is endless but as far as shes concerned she does it all. she used to go to a day care centre who deals with dementia patients and its great. Activities, dancing, a proper home cooked meal, and the helpers are lovely, helpful and friendly. Refusing to go now as they are all horrible. Ive got LPA for health and finances. I do the lot. Got to stage last year where I could not cope with going to work, back and forth sorting mum out, trying keep my hubby and my kids happy and keeping house too. Topping it all had to have a foot op so off feet for 2 months. Was so glad of rest. Brother had to step to take over care of mum whilst i was healing. He found it all just too stressful and as soon as i was back on feet I was sorting mam out again...Realised I couldn't /didn't want to do it anymore (eaten up with guilt) so got carers in. Was like starting WW3...mum has refused help, wont let them in, screamed cried, saying its making her ill, she wants nothing to do with me, she is delusional, saying they are horrible to her... Everyone is horrible to her and refusing to go to day care now. All i am after is her house and money she says and just want her in home. Its killing me and watching daughter getting abuse was last straw. I snapped and told mum i hated her. Spent next 2 days crying. Have asked for Psychological old age assessment to see if she has capacity. Am i doing right thing. Ive gone through all chanels, doctors, memory clinic, dementia nurses, social services. Dont think ive anyway else to turn. Looking for that elusive sign saying that its ok and im doing right thing for mum and everyone else. Sorry bout this epic tale. Any Help/hints would be great. Much love to everyone on this dementia journey too.

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Hello,

My father has suffered from dementia for at least 2 years now. I have noticed behaviour steadily deteriorating over the past months and am worried that my mother who is his primary carer is struggling to mentally and physically care for him now.
His short term memory is almost non-existent now and claims he can not do anything on his own. When my mother leaves the house he gets stuck in a loop of distress constantly questioning where she has gone and why she has left him even if she's only gone for half an hour.
I need to know what the best course of action is as I honestly feel my mum cannot continue caring for him for much longer.

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Hello Oliver,
We're so sorry to hear about the struggles you and your mother are facing. It sounds like a very challenging time.
We'd recommend either you or your mum speaking with one of our dementia advisers on 0333 150 3456. They can listen to your situation, provide advice and support. They're available seven days a week. You can find opening hours here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementiaconnect
In the meantime, you may wish to get your free copy of the practical guide for carers - there are some sections that may be of particular relevance to you and your family: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/publications-factsheets/carin…
Wishing you all the best, Oliver.
-
Alzheimer's Society blog team

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My husband has completed a four-hour psychiatric evaluation to determine if he has Dementia or some other problem. We do not know the results yet. I have halted the process after observing my husband's reactions so far - he was extremely angry about the questions he was being asked. He is in denial about dementia, but not so much because it is dementia - he would react badly to any diagnosis of a major illness. Physically, he has enjoyed almost perfect health; that, coupled with a family belief about illness, has me very worried. Initially, I thought the family had a religious belief which governed their attitudes about illness, but that's proven to be incorrect. As best as I can determine, illness is regarded as a negative - a terrible flaw which renders the ill person unacceptable to society. In other words, someone who is pitied and no longer admired. Less serious medical problems are to be "toughened out" and the family generally had little sympathy for sick people. When faced with a serious illness, my mother-in-law could not and would not work with her doctors, fellow instructions, or help herself in any way. If she could not be miraculously cured, she preferred to die. I've no idea how my husband will react, but I think it will not be good. Alcohol will be one solution. I also worry about anger. Should I set up some sort of medical care with a neurologist or neurosurgeon? I worry that the psychologist giving my husband a pass/fail readout will leave me with some bad problems. I've no one to assist so I'm trying to avoid problems I can't handle. I would appreciate any suggestions.

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My 87 year old mum broke her hip and wrist following a fall in July 19. Spent 3 months in hospital and had 4 general anaesthetics. She deleted post op delirium. After 10 days of being home she was admitted to hospital with divictulitis. Back home after 4 days then back in hospital 2 weeks later with Pancreatisis and bowel perforation which was treated with anti biopics. Came home 2 weeks later. Prior to her fall she lived alone no walking frame etc and able to do everything. She now can't even stand without assistance I have to use wheelchair to move her. She has gone downhill rapidly seems to have developed full blown dementia. Doesn't recognise her home, most of her family. I have taken leave to move in with her. She cries all the time is awake all night calling out for her mum. Cannot watch telly as she thinks the people will come out to kill usome etc. She is now incontinent and unable to do anything. Thought this could be vascular dementia as she was able to walk with frame until she had pancreatisis but not 100% sure is it normal for someone to decline so rapidly. Concerned daughter

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My mum has had memory issues/confusion for a few years. After a recent stay in hospital she has come out very confused/mixed up - not recognising her home as her own. She seems really miserable and unhappy and wanting to be out of the house all the time. She doesn’t seem to like being with my dad at all who is quite immobile and can be horrible to him. Although he is very awkward and isn’t patient with her or helping the situation. . I’m so worried about what to do - she currently has crisis carers in arranged by social services after her discharge from hospital. Originally they were coming in 4 x a day but now they are coming 1x a day for one hour a day. It’s not enough and will stop after New Year so we are trying to find private carers. I’m totally heartbroken seeing my mum like this, I don’t think I’ll see her happy again or know how to make her happy. I think her relationship with my dad is not good as he can’t cope with her and is used to being looked after by her and now she can’t do this. I have a young family and job and can’t be there as much as she needs - I feel so helpless .

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Hi Julie,

Sorry to hear about this situation with your mum - that sounds really difficult for you both. We'd recommend speaking to one of our Dementia Advisers on 0300 222 11 22 to see what support might be available. You can read more details of our phone support service here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/national-dementia-helpline

In addition, you may find it helpful speaking with other people affected by dementia about your experiences. Join Dementia Talking Point, our online community: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/dementia-talking-point-our-on

We hope this helps.
-
Alzheimer's Society blog team

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We've noticed mum (76) increasingly struggle with remembering words and now struggling with some tasks. She is petrified of getting a dementia diagnosis. She finally agreed to see a GP who referred her and a dementia nurse (I think?) was sent to see her at home. At the end of the consultation she offered to get mum seen by a consultant but she refused as she has she'd rather not know, so has been discharged from the service currently. I really think she needs a diagnosis, just to plan for the future whilst she is able to contribute. Dad doesn't want to upset her so won't push the issue. Should we wait until she gets worse or push her to go and upset her?

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Hi Helen,
Sorry to hear about your mum's recent problems with memory and changes in behaviour.
You've been doing the right thing by seeking a diagnosis. While ultimately it will be your mum's decision, if your mum does have dementia then a diagnosis can help you both to access support and plan for the future.
We have some advice on our website about how to have this difficult conversation which you may find useful:
https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/symptoms-and-diagnosis/how…
You could also speak with one of our Dementia advisers to talk more about your situation and discuss your options. To access phone support call 0300 222 11 22, or find out more about the service here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/national-dementia-helpline
Hope this is helpful,
--
Alzheimer's Society blog team

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This whole article seems to make the assumption that the person diagnosed with dementia has the mental capacity to understand what is happening. "Giving the person time and space to think about their diagnosis" The diagnosis was forgotten two minutes after it was given!
You might consider "speaking to the person’s doctor yourself" no professional I have spoken to will do anything without getting my mum's permission to speak to me first, she won't give it as she says and believes there is nothing wrong. I have had 4 years of caring now, with no help. Mum is now living with me, I live with aggression and stress everyday, Memory Clinic discharged her the same day as diagnosis as my mum said there was nothing wrong! Doctor says speak to social services, social services say there is nothing they can do if mum won't accept help. I am afraid often the reality bears no relation to the above article. Getting help is like banging your head against a brick wall, until finally you become numb to the pain because you can see no end to it!!!!!!!

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Same here Jay. I had 4 years of going round in circles, no clear diagnosis even though it was very obvious my mum had vascular dementia. Drs, social worker, carers who were awful, I finally ended up beyond exhausted and nobody cared. There is so much passing the buck as nobody wants it as their problem. The system is overloaded and stretched not just to the limit but beyond that, where people are just overlooked like they don't matter at all. I put my mum in a home for the last year of her life and she finally got some dignity in being cared for around the clock. It cost £5000 a month and we barely had enough left to pay for her funeral last week as we didn't know about the £20k threshold. It's heartbreaking to think there are other families going through this level of despair and frustration on top of a time which is emotionally devistating. My heart goes out.

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I have found that GPs will listen. If you say ‘ I know you can’t comment but I feel you need to have this index they will listen to it and act on it.
I’ve also had no luck with Social Services who just phone up, as my aunt if she is ok and when she tells the same story re how she gets her shopping that she tells me 20 times a week, they say ‘oh she’s ok’. Hopeless.

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My dad is 92 and has just had a replacement hip because if he had not he would have ended up in a wheelchair with change in all aspects of life. He has dementia and still lives supported but in his own flat. He cannot recall he has had the operation and therefore will not follow instructions about how to sit, lie etc. He has become overly aggressive and just plain bloody awkward and he is making everyones life a misery in spite of all the help we are providing. I dont want to sound mean or ungrateful but is there anything we can do to reinforce that he has had an operation and that he needs to take care in certain ways. We love him dearly but as with all things dementia life is not easy.

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Hi Alison
We'd recommend calling our National Dementia Helpline on 0300 222 11 22 to share your frustrations with one of our expert advisers. They can provide help and advice with regards to managing your Dad's behaviour. The Helpline is open Monday to Wednesday (9am-8pm), Thursday to Friday (9am–5pm) and Saturday to Sunday (10am-4pm). Find out more here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/national-dementia-helpline
In addition, you may find it helpful speaking with other people affected by dementia about your experiences. Join Dementia Talking Point, our online community: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/dementia-talking-point-our-on…
We hope this helps, Alison.
-
Alzheimer's Society blog team

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Hi , my mother (87) lives at home with my father (91) my mother has dementia although she has not been told . My father is good for his age, but has become very impatient. I’m the youngest of three of their children, I have two older brothers. We have a carer who goes in once a day to check she is taking her meds. But she has to take quite a lot of tablets 4 times a day. We have got her dosit boxes, but it’s still a struggle for her to take them properly,as the carer only goes in & checks once a day ,we have had a lot of incidents where she has taken the wrong ones . This is only 1 of the things we are finding so hard to deal with. I try to go every day ,but this is hard as I work part time & have a family of my own. I feel at my wits end with worry . I would be so grateful for any help/advice you can give . Thankyou. Joanne Warrender.

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Hi Joanne
We're very sorry to hear you're experiencing such worry - it sounds like such a difficult situation.
Please do call our National Dementia Helpline so our expert advisers can provide help and advice. It can be reached on 0300 222 11 22 and is open Monday to Wednesday (9am-8pm), Thursday to Friday (9am–5pm) and Saturday to Sunday (10am-4pm). Find out more here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/national-dementia-helpline
In addition, you may find it helpful speaking with other people affected by dementia about some of the things you're finding it hard to deal with. Join Dementia Talking Point, our online community: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/dementia-talking-point-our-on…
We really hope this helps, Joanne.
-
Alzheimer's Society blog team

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Hi my name is Janice , my mother is 87 yrs old & my father who is 89 looks after her , She has dementia but refuses to get assessed , My father has sever health problems , my mum forgets who he is , & at times is very abusive to him, recently I stayed at my parents house with my daughter , My poor mum came into bedroom early asking why we was in her house , we had to leave as she was very abusive , said we was stealing & was dirty scum ..was very upsetting for my dad , , but he agreed it was best we leave , so so worried about my dad , he is so frail , & mum can be very violent , he loves her so much , but he has told me he recently took overdose wanting to die ,

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Dear Janice,
Thank you for getting in touch. My name is Anne and I'm a Dementia Advisor at Alzheimer's Society.
I am so sorry to learn about the difficulties that your mum and dad are experiencing.
As you have disclosed that your dad has tried to end his life and that you mum is often violent and abusive towards him, I would recommend that you make an urgent safeguarding referral to social services.
Once this referral is made, social services have a duty to assess your mum and dad and to put appropriate measures in place to keep them safe.
From your comment, I can see how concerned you are about your dad and your mum, it is vital that the appropriate professionals are on board to provide the help and support they need at this difficult time.
The responsibility to keep your mum and dad safe will be too much for you, by getting the appropriate professionals involved, you can be assured that you have done what you can to keep your parents safe.
You may search for your parents local council using the following link: https://www.gov.uk/find-local-council
The local council will have a 24hr safeguarding telephone line in the Adult Social Service Department.
I do hope that this has been helpful. I encourage you to please contact me, or one of our other advisors, on 0300 222 1122 so that we may provide you with further information, advice and support.
__
Anne
Dementia Advisor - Telephone
Alzheimer's Society

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Background - My mum has Alzheimer’s and now in later stages. She has delusional episodes and hallucinations. Memories, usually bad ones, come together from many years ago causing her to be distressed. She forgets decisions she has made and changes them frequently.

Issue - One family member is Manipulating her to gift him £50k. Clearly But she is incapable of understanding the implications of such a major decision. I have an LPA, do I have the authority to stop her gifting this money?

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Hello Gary,
Thank you for getting in touch.
We’re sorry to hear about the current situation with your mum – it sounds like a very distressing time.
To learn more about dealing with your mum’s hallucinations and other challenging symptoms, we’d recommend calling our National Dementia Helpline on 0300 222 11 22 – our advisers are available seven days a week: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/national-dementia-helpline
Alternatively, we have a free downloadable factsheet on perception and hallucinations, which may be of interest: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/media/16726
Regarding the LPA, our expert Helpline advisers should be able to provide you with details about your role as an attorney.
Part of the role of an attorney is to assess capacity before making any decision on behalf of the person, so it is crucial to check capacity before doing anything.
If your mother does lack capacity to make the decision about gifting the money, then she should not be able to do this. As an attorney – or even a concerned person – there are steps to take that can stop it. The bank has responsibilities to ensure that your mother is safeguarded, so we suggest speaking with them directly to explain the situation.
You could also speak to the local social services about this. If your mother is being manipulated then this is potentially abuse. Local social services can then investigate the matter further.
There are certain rules about gifting money that may be needed to pay for care – this is called ‘deprivation of assets’. It is where someone gifts, transfers or disposes of assets with the intention of avoiding the money being used for care. This is a type of fraud.
In cases where this is said to have happened, a court can demand that the money/assets is transferred back to the person to then be used to pay for care. This may be another reason why the local social services might be interested in this.
Either way, you should look into this as a safeguarding issue, especially if the other family member is still pushing your mother to gift this money, even when it has been established that she lacks capacity to make this decision.
Lastly, we recommend speaking with The Office of the Public Guardian. They can advise you, as an attorney, about your duties and responsibilities and may be able to help in this situation. You can call them on 0300 456 0300 (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 9am to 5pm, Wednesday 10am to 5pm) or by emailing [email protected]
We hope this helps, Gary.
-
Alzheimer's Society blog team

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