DENIAL

January 18, 2011

I touched on this subject in earlier blogs, but I think it deserves its own section. My maternal grandfather began noticing memory issues at about age 60 when I was about 3 years old. It took a couple of years before those became severe enough for them to sell their Western Auto Store and retire. In the early 1970’s, lay people like us had not heard of Alzheimer’s disease, nor was it a term commonly used by physicians, even though Dr. Alois Alzheimer had named it in 1901. “Hardening of the arteries” was the usual term to describe any type of memory issues. My grandmother and my parents took my grandfather to Emory University in Atlanta where he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I remember as a child being sent out to walk with my grandfather in the yard, to keep him from wandering away and to give my grandmother some respite, but my most vivid memory, before the visit to Emory, is of the conversations that occurred in the car as we were leaving my grandparents’ house to return home. “Don’t you think he was better this time?” my mother would say. My father would agree with her, probably just to be kind. My mother would give examples of things my grandfather had done that indicated he was “better” than the last visit. After the visit to Emory, there was no denial possible. Although we did not know the specifics, we knew the generalities from what the doctor had said. Some version of this story has been the case in every family I have ever known dealing with Alzheimer’s disease. It was certainly the case with my husband, a neurologist, in dealing with his own father’s Alzheimer’s disease. You love the person so much that you want to explain away the forgetfulness, the declining abilities, the confusion. There usually comes a point, sometimes in a doctor’s office, sometimes in a situation, when your denial is forcibly stripped away.

When denial is stripped away from me, it is easy for me to grow frustrated with those who are still in denial. Why can’t they see it? It is especially difficult for those closest to the patient to avoid being in denial. Love and other emotions blind you to the reality of the situation.

I have three thoughts.  For those in denial: If people repeatedly tell you about your loved one’s memory issues, listen to them. Don’t “shoot the messenger.” For those recently shocked out of denial: Don’t feel guilty because you couldn’t see your loved one’s cognitive issues clearly. I challenge you to find someone who hasn’t been in denial who is in your situation. Don’t be so hard on yourself. For those trying to get someone out of denial: Be kind, gentle and understanding. Everyone processes this type information differently. Eventually, it will be impossible for them to remain in denial. Give them time.

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One Response to “DENIAL”

  1. hello there, thank you for posting this. I appreciate your standpoint and I see where you’re coming from. this has been very enlightening for me. thanks again.

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