The Danger of Denial: Accepting the Truth about Alzheimer’s Disease

Guest post by June Duncan of


It’s easy to understand why some people deny that a loved one is exhibiting signs of dementia and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Accepting that there’s a serious problem is admitting that they’re seriously ill, and that can be an emotionally wrenching admission. Not wanting to accept the problem is one thing; leaving your loved one vulnerable to injury and the damage that comes with a precipitous mental decline is something entirely different. It’s vital to maintain a realistic perspective about your family member’s condition. Insisting on deluded expectations is dangerous for your loved one, and possibly for others.

An individual who’s showing indications of a seriously debilitating condition like Alzheimer’s may accidentally overdose on medication, or get confused and fail to continue taking it as prescribed. They may be at risk for a serious fall down a flight of stairs or on a slippery surface, forget to turn off the stove, or mistake a clear, toxic fluid for water. Insisting that nothing’s wrong when there’s clear evidence to the contrary may also create frustration and anger among other family members. In an article entitled “Denial is Dangerous, ” author Carole Larkin exhorts families to try and convince those in denial that they’re allowing fear to override rational thought.

Signs of trouble

Alzheimer’s is generally indicated by repeated problems with short-term memory; a radical change in appearance and personal hygiene; wandering or getting lost in familiar surroundings; sudden mood shifts; loss of motivation; and heightened feelings of anxiety. A more serious form of Alzheimer’s may be indicated by hallucinations, aggressive behavior, difficulty recognizing friends and family; and an inability to focus. If these or other indications are in evidence, it’s important to come together as a family when your loved one is diagnosed to determine next steps, and who will assist your relative.

What to do?

The first thing to do is safeguard your loved one’s living environment. It’s important to make a very close inspection of the home and identify every potential danger spot, anything that could put a confused elderly patient in harm’s way. Grab rails should be installed in the bathroom, which is where most Alzheimer’s-related accidents occur. Slip-proof mats should be placed inside the bathtub or shower to prevent falls (a common occurrence among Alzheimer’s patients), and each room should be well-lit. Remember that falls are a major concern everywhere, so remove any stools, small tables, electrical cords or any clutter left lying around.  

Be sure not to neglect your home’s exterior or means of egress. If there are stairs leading to your front or back door, consider having a wooden ramp installed to help prevent falls. Bear in mind that Alzheimer’s patients can easily get confused and lost, especially if they’re able to walk out the door without any trouble. Try to keep external locks out of reach. If there are locks in the bathrooms, be sure to have them removed to keep your loved one from getting locked in.

Kitchen safety

Make liberal use of childproof locks in the kitchen, especially where sharp knives and other objects are kept. Lock your cabinets so that plates and bowls don’t get broken. If there are burner knobs on your stove, consider covering them as well as the burners on your stove top.

Painful truth

Accepting the truth about Alzheimer’s can be very painful when a loved one is concerned. It’s human nature to deny an awful truth, but acceptance is absolutely essential if you’re to protect a family member from harm and get them the help they need. With proper, compassionate care, an Alzheimer’s patient can lead a rewarding and enjoyable life.

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