Anosognosia and Alzheimer's: What Caregivers Should Know

Sunrise Senior Living  |  August 17, 2021
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Alzheimer’s, and other forms of dementia, impact the entire family. When a senior loved one is diagnosed with a condition that causes memory impairment, it can take patience and understanding to keep them safe and engaged. Alzheimer’s and other related diseases often cause changes ranging from difficulty with abstract thought to agitation and anxiety. One challenge many families experience is that the person living with the disease doesn’t realize anything is wrong with them.

Medical experts call this condition anosognosia. It can apply to patients who have been diagnosed with any type of disease and don’t realize that they have an illness. In the case of adults with Alzheimer’s disease, researchers believe up to 81% of people also have anosognosia.

Understanding Anosognosia

Experts believe anosognosia is the result of damage or deterioration in part of the brain’s right hemisphere. This part of the brain is responsible for abstract thought, perception, and problem-solving. When it becomes impaired, the left side of the brain takes over. It develops ways to compensate for the loss of function, such as denial and rationalization.

A person who has Alzheimer’s or another form of memory loss who develops anosognosia genuinely believes everything is fine and they are doing well. It’s because their brain is preventing them from seeing any signs of their illness. The result can be tough for loved ones as the senior might refuse to cooperate with requests. So firm is their belief that they will resist accepting that something is wrong even when their physician confirms the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.

What can adult children and family members do to cope if they find themselves in this situation? While there are no easy answers, we do have a few ideas you can explore.

What to Do When a Senior has Anosognosia

As is true when interacting with someone who has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, try to enter their reality instead of attempting to force them into yours. Remember, rationalizing or repeatedly explaining things to them will likely be unsuccessful. Because of the damage to their brain, they can’t reason or problem solve.

Ask yourself how important a particular issue is to the senior’s well-being. Do you really need to keep trying to get them to do something differently? If it’s not something that puts them in harm’s way, it’s often best to let it go.

Shift your focus instead to managing the symptoms caused by their disease. A few tips for accomplishing that include:

  • Demonstrate empathy: Positive body language combined with a warm, soft voice shows the senior you care. On the opposite side of the spectrum, be careful of facial expressions or using a tone of voice that might put the senior on the defensive or frighten them.
  • Watch their diet: The foods and beverages you incorporate in your loved one’s menus can impact their behavior. By keeping caffeine and sugar intake low, you may be able to reduce agitation and help the senior get a better night’s sleep.
  • Schedule carefully: Structure is vital to people with Alzheimer’s or related forms of memory loss. Having a routine prevents them from becoming frustrated when they have trouble with short-term memory. By sticking with a schedule, such as going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, you reduce stress and agitation.
  • Invest in technology: Wandering from home and becoming lost is a big concern for families when a loved one has Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia. The issue is compounded when the senior has anosognosia and doesn’t realize anything is wrong. For their safety and your peace of mind, consider investing in a discreet GPS tracking device. You’ll find options ranging from pendants and bracelets to SmartSole shoe inserts.

Memory Care at Sunrise Senior Living

Sunrise memory care neighborhoods place great emphasis on the individual resident. Caregivers undergo special training to learn how to empower adults with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia to live the most productive lives possible. It’s an approach that makes families so happy with and supportive of our communities.

Call (888) 434-4648 to speak with a Sunrise team member and learn about our memory care program today!


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