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What to do if a Loved-One isn't Accepting a Dementia Diagnosis



Receiving a diagnosis of Dementia is incredibly difficult for both patient and loved-ones. It’s not an easy thing to hear and can be even harder to fully accept. That’s why some patients seemingly refuse to accept their diagnosis and live in denial, whether consciously or not. Such situations can be extremely distressing and problematic for carers and loved-ones, but please don’t despair! There’s lots of ways you can help your loved-one in this situation.


1. Realise You’re Not Alone   Whilst caring for someone who doesn’t acknowledge their diagnosis can be distressing, it is actually an extremely common scenario. Even those who have experienced symptoms over long periods may still find it hard to accept a formal diagnosis. The good thing is, because denial is a relatively common reaction to a diagnosis, those who are caring for your loved-one, such as your doctor or physician, are likely to be familiar with the issue and able to provide advice and support on dealing with it.  2. Try to Understand Why Although the diagnosis may appear from the outside as simply a confirmation of symptoms you already observed in your loved-one, they may not have been so apparent to the person themself. The best way to understand why they have reacted as they have is to try and visualise yourself in their situation, appreciating their personality, circumstances and the context of the diagnosis. It’s incredibly hard for anyone to accept a Dementia diagnosis, but understanding the individual circumstances of your loved-one should help you to empathise with them and see why they have reacted as they have. Here are some common reasons people find it difficult to accept a diagnosis:


  • They haven’t noticed their symptoms themselves

  • It’s a coping mechanism

  • The stigma attached to Dementia

  • They do not recall the diagnosis meeting

  • They think it’s just a normal part of ageing 

3. Explain the Diagnosis Carefully Sometimes having a conversation to reinforce the diagnosis with your loved-one in a more familiar, informal environment can enable them to process the news more easily. Try to explain in more abstract terms the diagnosis, as clinical terms like ‘Dementia’ can seem scary and harsh to hear. Instead, try explaining that their brain is not working as it should and that their memory is not quite as effective as it once was. Understanding and processing this can be the first step towards full acceptance for many people with Dementia. 4. Do What’s Best For Them If your loved-one continues not to accept their diagnosis, there are two possible ways you can handle the situation: If they are not accepting the situation because they do not remember or realise that they are having memory problems, then it may be best to simply go along with this. Chances are that in this event, they are unlikely to be stressed or worried as they do not realise they are having problems. Therefore, going along with this is probably the best option to ensure their continued happiness. If their lack of awareness about their condition means they are unwilling to accept support and help, then it can be best to gently introduce carers, support workers and medical professionals as friends who are simple looking after them as they are getting older. ​This can help your loved-one to accept help more easily without becoming distressed or alarmed about their own condition. You can also assure them that the extra care is about giving you peace of mind that they are being looked after. Ultimately, your loved-one’s happiness is most important and so sometimes not revealing the full extent of the truth can be the best thing to maintain their health and happiness. Alternatively, if they are aware of their symptoms but simply refusing to accept the diagnosis of Dementia, then the best thing for them may be to simply accept their denial and work around it. This may be the least stressful way for everyone involved to deal with the situation and move forward. Acceptance will likely come with time, but in the meantime your loved-one likely just needs you to be there for them, supporting them through the stages of their illness.  5. Be Mindful of their Safety Even if your loved one is not accepting their diagnosis, the condition is still a serious matter and their safety should be your primary concern. There are lots of different ways you can introduce support into their life and home in order to ensure they can live as normal a life as possible. If your loved-one is not receptive to this or becomes resistant, gently remind them that you are simple looking out for their welfare and to  give yourself peace of mind.

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