What to Do When a Loved One Doesn't Understand They Have Alzheimer's

Sunrise Senior Living  |  May 3, 2019
What to Do When a Loved One Doesn't Understand They Have Alzheimer's
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What if you had Alzheimer’s disease, but didn’t know it?

Not that you were undiagnosed, but that you didn’t understand you had the most common form of dementia. According to a study by the University of Florida, it’s a reality almost 81 percent of seniors who have Alzheimer’s disease live with.

The condition is known as anosognosia. It is derived from a Greek word that means “without knowledge of disease.” An older adult with anosognosia lacks the necessary self-awareness to recognize they are ill. They may claim that their memory is fine, despite struggling to remember close friends’ names or becoming disoriented in familiar settings.

What Causes Anosognosia?

Atrophy in the right frontal lobe of the brain due to Alzheimer’s can cause this condition. This area of the brain is responsible for problem-solving, organizing, processing experiences, and much more. As Alzheimer’s disease progresses and damages the right frontal lobe of the brain, the senior may become unaware that they have an illness.

Adults who have had a stroke or a brain tumor may develop anosognosia, but it is most common among seniors who have Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s important to note that anosognosia is different than being in denial. While denial is a normal reaction to the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, a person with anosognosia truly does not know they are battling a disease.

The Rating Scale for Anosognosia

Anosognosia exists on a spectrum, with four levels of rating self-awareness of memory loss:

  1. Senior easily admits to memory loss.
  2. Senior inconsistently acknowledges a small amount of memory loss.
  3. Senior isn’t aware of any memory impairment.
  4. Senior angrily insists that nothing is wrong with their memory.

Anosognosia often worsens in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

How to Help a Senior Who Has Anosognosia

Seniors with anosognosia may refuse help, which can pose a real challenge for family caregivers. Left unattended, an older adult might forget to shower, forget something is cooking, or get lost while driving.

Researchers from the University of Florida suggest the following for family caregivers:

  • Approach downsizing and moving to a memory care community in a positive manner. Encourage the senior to move to a retirement community where they can leave chores and maintenance worries behind. Explain that they will be surrounded by friends and a variety of life enrichment activities every day.
  • Work with the senior to complete chores and run errands, such as house cleaning and managing finances. Keep your approach lighthearted and relaxed.
  • Bring structure to the senior’s day by scheduling tasks and sticking with a routine. This includes everything from personal care to relaxation.

Caring for a loved one who has anosognosia and Alzheimer’s takes patience. With kindness and empathy, you can help them live their best life.

If you decide the support of a memory care program might be the best option, we invite you to tour Sunrise Senior Living. Call us today at 888-434-4648 to set up a time!

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