Dealing With Denial
Denial can be a dangerous reaction or response (in actuality, some medical experts describe it as more of an unconscious process), especially as it relates to senior care.
In my time in senior care operations, I saw and dealt with denial of all shapes and sizes. Usually, it takes the form of not admitting your loved one has any form of dementia.
Other times, it's a lack of awareness of the level of care your loved one needs.
I have seen denial at work in my own family and have even caught myself not wanting to admit uncomfortable realities about elderly family members.
One recent episode involved a family acquaintance who, three years prior, had asked for my advice regarding her elderly aunt. My advice was met with dismissal and a snub, even though she was the one who reached out.
Fast forward three years, and this person is in a crisis mode, in fear for herself, her quality of life as well as her aunt's safety and well-being because the now advanced Alzheimer's was taking its toll.
When this family acquaintance sought me out again recently, she was overcome with guilt because she hadn't acted sooner as was suggested.
She went on to tell me everything I said would happen. I certainly took no pleasure in being right in this case; in fact, I felt a deep sense of empathy for this family.
They lost so much quality time that could have still been shared if they had only taken action. They also lost money they could have directed to more productive events and services that would have improved quality of life.
While denial can initially be a coping mechanism, it can ultimately create major health and welfare problems.
It is important to realize that, while there is currently no cure for Alzheimer's and many dementias, there are actions that can be taken to improve a family and a love one's situation. These action can create a larger window available for improved quality of life.
Probably the most difficult situation created by denial is when the view of reality is split within a family. Denial, in this case, causes many other problems, one of which is usually regret, the other is animosity.
My point here is more to highlight the issue for awareness rather than to condemn anyone for having a normal reaction or for experiencing a natural coping mechanism.
The problem stems from getting stuck in denial and then loosing valuable time to improve quality of life. The other dilemma with denial is the clash and resulting anger that can cause a "locking of horns" within a family.
It is all too easy to get stuck in a circle of anger. Denial masks many emotions, including grief and fear. Illogical and counter-productive behavior can result from getting "stuck".
Everything gets compounded when there are out of town family members that do not see the day-to-day symptoms that are more easily hidden during short visits or telephone conversations.
While maybe not scientific, there are a few things that I have seen in my experience that sometimes help dealing with denial:
- Try to listen with an open mind to others who may be more objective in what they see.
- Take deep breaths, and pause, before responding to anyone that seems to be in denial regarding a loved one’s care needs or living situation.
- At some point, the choice is either to try to engage in rational discussion in hope of "shaking some sense into them" or work around them and do whatever you have to do in order to satisfy your own need to do the right thing.
- Attend a support group, especially if ideas have been raised about the issues of dementia or care needs you question. The objective feedback might be enlightening.
- Read! There is so much information out there relative to these topics that it is likely you will connect with something that will enlighten you.
Unfortunately, there are those times when nothing you do will break through the denial, and the consequences will be suffered. If you are the one in denial, you will likely look back and likely have a guilty realization.
We are all human. Most of us are all doing the best we can at any given moment. We feel emotions and have coping mechanisms, and denial is a normal one of them.
My purpose here is to remind the reader that there are steps than can be taken to contribute to possibly breaking the cycle of denial before a negative outcome arises that jeopardizes the care, health and quality of life we want for our loved ones.
“It's not denial. I'm just selective about the reality I accept.”
-Bill Watterson (Author of the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip)
Check on someone you care about today.
For over 20 years, guided by a personal passion, Scott Eckstein has devoted his career to improving the lives of seniors. From development to day-to-day operations of senior communities to the use of technology in caregiving, Scott helps countless businesses, seniors and their families navigate the maze of senior care and living options.