If you have a loved one with dementia, and you find that they often refuse help or assistance – we’re here to tell you that that’s totally normal, and incredibly common. Often, people with dementia either:
Don’t want to lose their independence if they believe their memory loss ‘isn’t that bad’, or;
They completely deny – or don’t realise (as per a symptom of dementia) – that they’re experiencing memory loss or challenges relating to their cognition.
Regardless of your loved one’s reasons for rejecting your help, it’s important to recognise that dementia can often feel stigmatised, and that stigma might significantly impact your loved one’s response to their dementia diagnosis or to your offers of help due to their diagnosis.
Can problems arise if they don’t get the help I feel they need?
Yep, absolutely. Continuing to reject offers of help might mean essential medications are missed, important appointments are forgotten, they might continue to drive or ride a bike when it is no longer safe for them to do so, and they might not reach out for assistance when they do know they need it.
How can I help them when they say they don’t want my help?
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to helping your loved one who has said they don’t want assistance. However, here are some of our top tips – hopefully you’ll find at least a few of them to be helpful.
Always approach your conversations with them gently, kindly and warmly.
If anyone feels as though you’re about to attack them, question them or doubt them, they’re much less likely to accept offers of help. When somneone with dementia refuses care, it might be because they are already starting to feel unsure about things. They are more likely to be sensitive to negative tones and emotions. When in doubt, lead with kindness, empathy and patience.
Start with something small.
Find a seemingly simple, basic task you (or a service provider) might be able to help with, to take something off their plate. The task might feel small to you and them, but baby steps can really help in getting them to a place where they’re willing to accept additional help. Remember, you probably want to empower them to maitain their independence.
Maybe you’ll head over to cook dinner once a week so they don’t have to, or you’ll order a meal to be delivered to their doorstep on a weekend. Alternatively, you could offer to take them to their medical appointments and then head out for a coffee or treat after (to make the situation feel a little nicer and more enticing).
Keep a diary to detail events.
If your loved one repeatedly forgets to complete important tasks (such as brushing their teeth, going to the doctor, taking medication, etc), you can jot these forgotten tasks down. Then, you can approach your loved one and gently let them know you noticed they’d forgotten to complete each of them, offering them some assistance to help them tick those items off in the future.
If your loved one denies that they have dementia, don’t try and force them to accept their diagnosis.
Instead of trying to convince them that they have dementia – and without getting frustrated at their denial – try and provide solutions to their problems without judging their behaviour. For example, if your loved one often forgets their medications, you can bring them a medication box to help them keep track of what they’ve taken and when (and what meds to take), and if you feel they shouldn’t be driving, you can take their car keys away to prevent them harming themselves or others.
If refusing to go to the doctor is a common occurrence for your loved one, it might be worth getting in touch with the doctor directly and requesting a Telehealth session.
If they do need to go into the doctor’s rooms, try and turn the experience into a more enticing and enjoyable one. As we mentioned above, you could head out for breakfast beforehand, grab a coffee after the appointment, or even head to the movies afterwards. Providing your loved one with something to look forward to can be a great way to encourage them to head out and see the doctor.
Does your loved one refuse to eat?
It’s often recommended to offer sweet meals such as cereal, sliced fruit or pudding, to help spark your loved one’s appetite. Keeping distractions away from the kitchen (or dining area) can also help keep your loved one focussed on eating. If they simply aren’t hungry, it might be worth encouraging them to get up and about in the mornings – sometimes a small amount of exercise, like a stroll down the street, can help boost appetite.
Dementia and End of Life Planning
If you’re concerned about your loved one’s Will – maybe you feel their Will might no longer be valid, or they don’t have the capacity to make appropriate changes (or write their Will, if they haven’t already), we’ve written some additional guides you might find useful.
Read: Is your Will legally valid? Three things to look out for.
Read: Witnessing a Will: Can a family member witness my Will?
If you've personally been affected by dementia (perhaps you've seen it take hold of someone close to you), and you wish to make a lasting impact with your own Will, Willed have made it easy to leave a bequest as part of the Will writing journey.
Dementia Australia exists to support and empower the estimated more than 400,000 Australians living with dementia and the more than 1.5 million people who are involved in their care.
A gift in your Will to the Alzheimer’s Research Australia will help create a future that improves the lives of people affected by Alzheimer’s disease and enables future generations to enjoy life to the full as they age.
It’s important to remember that all changes can feel like big changes in the life of someone living with dementia. We (naturally) don’t like losing our independence as we age, and we especially don’t like losing our independence if we’ve been diagnosed with something that impairs our ability to remember important tasks, dates, or people. Be patient with your loved one – even if at times it can feel hard not to lose your cool – because chances are, they’re struggling, too.
Disclaimer: The content of this blog is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. This blog should not be relied upon as legal, financial, medical, accounting or tax advice.