Denial is an old friend. It helps us cope with all sorts of unpleasant realities by postponing the decision to accept things the way they really are. Similarly, many if not most of us who have experienced a love one go through the memory loss process of Alzheimer’s and other dementias can attest to relying on denial as long as possible.
As Carolyn Rosenblatt relates in an article about “parenting the parent,” it is quite common for adult children to ignore warning signs that Mom or Dad are truly suffering from memory problems, problems that may endanger them or others. While we may wish we could wish away their various memory lapses or blame it on their cocktail of medications, the truth is that we must eventually switch roles and provide the kind of safety and care our parent once gave us.
Yes, taking responsibility for your once highly capable, even assertive parent, is very stressful. It is difficult even when we can see Mom or Dad can no longer drive, shop or make other basic decisions.
You know you are in denial
One of the harshest aspects of dealing with a loved one’s dementia, agrees Gary Joseph LeBlanc in an article in alz.org is when outsiders offer opinions that are hurtful and unsubstantiated. For example, his siblings would comment after a phone visit, “What do you mean? Dad seemed just fine.” But five minutes later Dad wouldn’t know who he was talking to.
As a result LeBlanc underscores the importance of bringing the entire clan into the information fold. Hold regular family meetings and try to parse out the jobs. He also recommends sibling join support groups to help them understand what is going on.
What happens when your loved one is in denial?
Denial affects all of us. It’s only realistic that Mom or Dad would have a hard time accepting the fact that they have dementia or their spouse has diminished memory.
In her blog Laura Anne offers some advice. Recalling her Dad’s endless and repetitive questions in early dementia, she recommends caregivers not try to explain everything for the thousandth time, but use non-inflammatory, open-ended comments such as “maybe” instead of arguing. Also, don’t expect Mom or Dad to be logical, it just doesn’t work that way anymore.
Instead, says Laura Anne, “Explain things patiently and sympathetically. Be consistent, it IS a test. Early dementia patients KNOW something is wrong, and often their memory can be better than they let on.”
Strategies for coping with the new role
Rosenblatt offers five strategies for how to cope with the new role of “parenting your parent” – particularly an angry, fearful parent:
- Accept the reality – your parent’s dementia, memory loss or other problems are not going away.
- Gather information – Seek help, resources, take care of finances, legal
- Limit unsafe activities – Gently take away the keys, take over finances, hire help.
- Do what is necessary – Accept and acknowledge your parent’s anger and frustration, but do what is needed to keep Mom or Dad safe.
- Keep calm – Try not to react or argue, be kind but firm. Focus on safety and quality of life.