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Tips for Coping When a Senior Doesn’t Know They Have Alzheimer’s

Tips for Coping When a Senior Doesn’t Know They Have Alzheimer’s

<!–[CDATA[Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating diagnosis for families to hear. It takes a toll on the senior who is living with the illness and their family caregivers. The unpredictability of the disease often makes adult children feel like they are treading on quick sand. When their aging loved one doesn’t realize they have Alzheimer’s disease, the difficulties are even greater.


Medical experts call this condition, Anosognosia. Researchers believe up to 81% of people with Alzheimer’s disease have it. Seniors who are living with Anosognosia have no idea something is wrong with their cognitive function.

A New York Times article, When They Don’t Know They Are Ill shares family’s personal accounts of their struggles to find ways to cope with this disease.

What is Anosognosia?

Alzheimer’s experts believe Anosognosia occurs when the frontal lobes of the brain become damaged or deteriorate. This area of the brain is responsible for abstract thought, problem-solving, perception and socialization skills.

When this part of the brain doesn’t function as it should, the left side of the brain becomes more dominate. The brain develops its own techniques for compensating for the loss of function. Denial and rationalization are two. They make a person living with Alzheimer’s believe they are really doing just fine.

Anosognosia makes it even more challenging to reason with a loved one, especially when it comes to gaining their cooperation with physician interventions. Because these seniors don’t see any signs of their illness, they may refuse to cooperate with adult children and caregivers.

What can you do to help manage this difficult behavior in a senior family member?

We have a few suggestions experts recommend trying.

Managing Anosognosia in a Senior with Alzheimer’s

Our first suggestion is to try to enter their reality instead of attempting to rationalize the situation with them. Because the damage caused to their brain is irreversible, they are just not able to reason or problem solve.

Instead, focus on managing the symptoms created by their disease.

  • Be patient and empathetic. Use positive non-verbal cues and a warm, soft voice when making requests of a senior with this condition.
  • Focus activity such as errands and appointments in the morning hours when they are likely to be better rested.
  • Limit caffeine and sugary treats that may create agitation.
  • People with Alzheimer’s disease benefit from structure because it prevents them from having to rely on memory. Try to create and stick to the same daily routine whenever possible.
  • For your Alzheimer’s loved one’s safety and your own piece of mind, investigate GPS tracking options such as Comfort Zone from the Alzheimer’s Association or Smart Sole.

One final tip is to consider investigating and utilizing respite services in a Memory Care Assisted Living Program to give the family caregiver a much needed break. Respite can also be a great way to try out a senior living community to see if it is a good fit for your loved one should the time come that you can no longer safely care for them at home.

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