DENIAL – Understanding and Dealing With It When It Comes To Your Parent’s Care

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Boca Home Care Services offers some tips in dealing with a loved one’s denial of the need for some assistance. “De Nial” is more than a river, it is common defense mechanism which can make helping an elderly parent or spouse who needs help, very difficult. Read some tips on how to mitigate a loved one’s denial by understanding what lies beneath it. Remember, safety and care are most important when dealing with an elderly mother, father, wife or husband who are having difficulty in caring for themselves.


Of course it is frustrating when you see a situation and a solution but your aging spouse or parent refuses to even acknowledge a problem. Denial is a powerful defense mechanism we all employ unconsciously or willingly. Adult children or caregiver spouses can become angry and depressed when they know something is wrong which may also be dangerous to their loved one but any and all help is refused.

Knowing when to give up driving, acknowledging that you cannot manage the household by yourself or perhaps even personal care due to physical (illness or injury) or cognitive impairment (memory loss, dementia) is a big step for many people as it brings up many psychological issues and fears.

Denial is a clue to other issues going on such as: fear of loss of independence, becoming a burden, financial concerns, embarrassment, fear of the future, a blow to one’s pride and sense of self.  Our elderly parents probably went through the depression, a world war, starting a family, job and health issues. Everyone’s coping skills, insight and courage are different. You can’t bully someone out of their denial. If they are legally competent you can’t do much to force an issue at all. Having a Power of Attorney will allow you to speak to their doctor (s), banker, pharmacist, financial planner and so forth.

  • Less is more when approaching an aging or debilitated love one. Choose your time and place to have a serious conversation. It should be when you are both calm, in a quiet place with no distractions, address only one issue. Don’t gang up or bombard them with all the things they can’t do. – No one responds well to that.

 * Be understanding and supportive of their feelings and situation. Share your concern, admiration and fear – it should come from love rather than authority.

 * Help them be part of the solution. Ask their advice on how they would handle a situation similar to what you are addressing. Maybe relay that a friend of yours is having this situation with their parent.

 * Be firm in communicating your concerns for their safety, wellbeing and limitations of what you are able to do to help. Guilt can work both ways.

 * Offer a few options which may be helpful such as, breaking up tasks, attending a Senior Center program, getting community senior transportation organized or approved, limited home care visits.

 * Bring in a professional such as a Geriatric Care Manager who will meet with both of you, or the whole family. Someone not personally involved and knowledgeable about such situations and can explore with your loved one what is holding them back, and how they can best move forward.

    * Try negotiating with your loved one; if they will take a driver’s test or agree to    abide by their doctor’s opinion, then you will abide by that finding.

 * Be patient (unless there is a real danger – then act on the side of safety). Change won’t likely occur quickly. Be prepared to have several talks about your concerns. LISTEN to what they are telling you and hear between the lines. We all use denial to AVOID something unpleasant or perceived to be unpleasant or scary.

 * Think strategically, who does your parent or spouse listen to the most? Is it one adult child over another, their doctor, lawyer or accountant? Find out who it is and discuss with them your concerns. Where there is agreement, allow them to broach the subject and offer a recommendation.

 Remember, you can only do your best. Sometimes people are more stubborn than logical. Some people you can prevent from falling and others you can only pick back up. Examine your motives, be patient and ask for help for yourself too.