When Dad Insists Mom is Just Forgetful

Vicky Pitner   -  

As we age, our bodies go through many changes, including changes in the brain. Often a spouse will notice subtle changes in his/her loved ones behaviors, and will contribute it to “old age”. Forgetting where we left our car keys or being a bit slower recalling someone’s name, can be part of  normal aging and we eventual remember where the keys are and recall the person’s name. However, with memory loss we may find the lost keys, but in an unusual place or cannot remember their function.

When recognizing changes in someone, such as confusion about things that should be familiar or having trouble with daily tasks, this could be an early symptom of dementia. Often when a spouse notices these changes in his/her loved one, covering up the blunders and deny that something is wrong is common. He/she will begin taking on more responsibility of the person’s behaviors, such as helping pick out clothes or answering for the person to avoid the chance of embarrassment if the person is unable to answer a question. He/she will then try to convince other family members that “mom is just getting old” in hopes to avoid a stressful situation. This denial can be dangerous and needs to be addressed.

Denial is a coping mechanism we use to protect ourselves, and it will often give us time to adjust to the new circumstances and allow us to process what is happening. Denial can last for a long time and is a way to cope with emotional stress, painful thoughts or threatening anxiety. Often when behaviors associated with memory loss are so apparent to others, the spouse won’t come to terms with the “elephant in the room,” and the family member misses out on early interventions and treatment that could improve the person’s quality of life.  Hopefully the denial lessens as the person becomes more aware of the situation and has gained the strength to tackle the changes and begin to learn how best to support their loved-one.

If you are concerned about someone experiencing behavioral symptoms of dementia, it is imperative to seek help from your healthcare provider. An evaluation can be done to see if the changes may be related to cognitive or rule out a medical condition. A proper diagnosis is key to early intervention and can determine the long-term outcome for the person.

When you need to address the changes in a parent, and the other parent is just not ready, here are some tips to try.

  • Avoid demanding that the parent come to terms with the memory loss.
  • Ask to have a conversation even when the topic is uncomfortable. You may find that he/she is relieved to talk about it.
  • Try to understand the fear that prevents the person from coming to terms with having a loved-one diagnosed with dementia. Are they afraid they would be separated from each other? Perhaps fearful of the long term consequences of dementia?
  • Learn the symptoms of cognitive impairment and share with your family.
  • Keeping a journal of the changes may help in others recognizing a change in cognitive abilities.
  • Seek out a support group for families and dementia.
  • Ask for professional help and guidance on supporting family members denying the changes.

If you would like more information on our Memory Ministry or Memory Café please contact Vicky Pitner.