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family conflict as caregiver

When Senior Loved Ones Are In Denial: Avoiding Family Conflict as a Caregiver

Facing a loved one’s condition as they age is a challenging journey, and navigating their needs can be even more complex when they’re hesitant to accept help. 

This is true not just for your loved one but for other family members as well. As the primary caregiver, this resistance can create tension and complicate decision-making, especially concerning medical care.

This article explores the challenges of navigating senior denial within your caregiving role. We’ll delve into the psychology behind it and provide practical conversation scripts to help you have productive discussions with your loved one and avoid family conflict. 

Our goal at Kensington Place Redwood City is to equip you with tools to encourage acceptance of necessary care, potentially smooth the transition to assisted living if needed, and ultimately, improve lives.

Our promise is to love and care for your family as we do our own.

What does denial look like in seniors?

Denial is a common initial reaction for both seniors and their families when faced with serious, life-changing diagnoses such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or cancer. 

Denial as a coping mechanism can significantly impact the acceptance and management of these conditions.

In caring for your loved one, denial may show itself as seniors dismissing or downplaying symptoms or the severity of their diagnosis. 

Your loved one may say “I don’t have dementia, I feel fine,” or “The doctor said my cancer was removed,” despite clear medical evidence to the contrary. 

While denial might offer short-term emotional relief, it often complicates caregiving and medical management. 

When a senior doesn’t cooperate with care, it can negatively impact the effectiveness of doctor’s visits when the caregiver finds they have to tiptoe around the truth so they don’t upset their loved one. 

Unfortunately, this only causes delays to important medical decisions and adds to the strain for everybody involved.

Reasons behind denial

Senior denial can stem from: 

  • Fear
  • Lack of understanding 
  • The grief process, where acceptance feels too overwhelming

Statistics show that 56% of people put off seeking a dementia diagnosis for up to a year and that many elderly patients and their families experience denial after diagnosis.

In some instances, denial can stem from neurological and cognitive changes, especially in conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, where there is a decline in judgment and executive functioning.

What is the impact of denial on the family dynamics of caregiving?

Denial can also appear among family members, who may have different stances. 

They may say things like “Just let them believe what they want, why do they need to know the truth?” or outright refuse to acknowledge the need for medical intervention.

At Kensington Place Redwood City, we believe overcoming denial is necessary for moving forward. 

Recognizing and gently confronting denial can preserve the quality of life for seniors and reduce long-term distress.

Encouraging thoughtful and gentle discussions about the condition, involving them in planning their care, and educating the family will create a healthier acceptance of the situation.

Strategies to overcome denial and avoid family conflict

Discussing serious diagnoses such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, cancer, or other neurological diseases requires a great deal of sensitivity, especially when denial is in the equation.

The following are strategies and scripts to help maintain positive and effective communication and avoid family conflict as a caregiver. 

Sometimes it’s necessary to avoid “trigger words” when they are challenging to your loved one. Your end goal is to ensure they get treatment first and, eventually, acceptance of their diagnosis.

Use euphemisms thoughtfully

If the specific words around your loved one’s diagnosis instantly upset them, then find euphemisms for their condition that allow you to discuss it openly without triggering them. 

  • For Alzheimer’s denial: “It seems there are some noticeable memory inconsistencies. I have suggestions that can assist with managing your daily activities more smoothly.”
  • Script for cancer denial: “The tests showed some unusual cell activity that the doctor wanted to address. There are several options to control this and improve your comfort.”
  • Script for neurological disorder denial: “We’re seeing some changes in muscle loss and coordination. Let’s focus on getting treatments that can improve your strength.”

Engage through gentle questions

Ask open-ended questions that focus on feelings and preferences rather than the disease, such as “What are your thoughts on some treatments that would make you feel better?”

Creating family members and mediation

Talk with your family members about your loved one to share everyone’s observations about their condition and discuss possible steps forward.

For example, “Let’s talk about Mom’s denial and see if we can get her to accept help, even if she won’t accept her diagnosis yet. The most important thing is she gets treatment, even if she doesn’t think she has Parkinson’s.”

Sometimes, it can be better to have an expert guide the conversation with your loved one, such as a trusted doctor or family friend who’s dealt with a similar diagnosis. 

How to deal with persistent denial

You have to acknowledge that for some individuals, denial may never go away. 

In these cases, focus on treating the symptoms and managing their condition in a way that respects their boundaries.

For example, “We understand there are certain terms or diagnoses to avoid, but let’s focus on the actions we can control to improve your daily comfort and health.”

Gently guiding your loved one toward acceptance of assisted living

Many seniors fear the loss of their independence and the comforts of home, making the idea of moving into assisted living fraught with resistance.

Having the conversation may be challenging, but there are compassionate approaches to help your loved one see the many benefits of moving into a supportive environment such as Kensington Place Redwood City:

  • Start conversations early
  • Talk about their finances and offer your willingness to help them manage or support the financial aspects of assisted living to alleviate their worries
  • Use the ‘foot in the door’ technique to simply get them to visit an assisted living community with no commitment to move
  • Highlight the community aspects, such as social events, all-day dining, easy transportation
  • Get their feedback and make them feel included in the decision
  • Discuss personal care benefits such as on-site rehabilitation, on-site nurses, and an on-site doctor

Explore memory care at Kensington Place Redwood City

At Kensington Place Redwood City, we’re committed to providing top-notch memory care.

Our specialized programs in Alzheimer’s and dementia care are designed to support residents and families alike. 

Connect with our vibrant community through Kensington Konnect, or read our informational senior care blog.

Contact Kensington Place Redwood City today for more information about how we help residents and caregivers connect and preserve their quality of life.

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