Hollenbeck Palms

Dear Laura, Why do people with dementia often seem unaware of their symptoms?

“Dear Laura” is a regular series with our in-house dementia care expert, Laura Wayman. Laura is a best-selling author and internationally recognized speaker on the topic of memory loss. She has trained our whole staff on how to best communicate and care for those experiencing dementia symptoms.

Dear Laura,

Why do people with dementia often seem unaware of their symptoms? Over time, my wife’s health deteriorated, revealing subtle and often overlooked symptoms of dementia, such as balance issues and sleep disturbances. It wasn’t just about memory loss; there were other signs that seemed like normal aging but turned out to be indications of a severe decline in brain function due to diseases like Alzheimer’s or Lewy Body disease. Unfortunately, her diagnosis confirmed early-stage Lewy body dementia.

Her symptoms, including muscle stiffness, a shuffling walk, tremors, and frequent falls, have changed our lives. The way I interact with her has had to evolve. The disease’s slow, yet consistent, progression has dominated our existence, and the woman I married seems to be fading away. Her once calm demeanor has turned irritable and sometimes aggressive. Discussing her condition or the changes in her health only upsets her, making her adamant that nothing’s wrong. It’s heartbreaking to see her resist care and deny the evident shifts in her personality and abilities.

Desperately seeking guidance,

A Distressed, But Devoted Spouse.

Dear Distressed, But Devoted Spouse,

This is a common query, as evidenced by a recent interview with Bruce Willis’s wife about his awareness of his condition. Your wife’s denial isn’t just a simple refusal to accept her condition. It’s called “anosognosia,” or a lack of self-awareness about one’s illness. Recognized in patients with conditions like strokes and various dementia-causing diseases, it is different from the denial experienced by caregivers. It arises from physical changes in the brain that affect self-perception.

Handling someone living with dementia and anosognosia can be challenging. They might struggle with daily tasks and decision-making, but will often decline help or medical assessments.

Unfortunately, there is no straightforward solution. However, understanding dementia better can help you devise a suitable care strategy. Some tips include:

  • Communicate with positive and encouraging statements. Try to not overload them with choices and questions.
  • Make tasks simple by cutting them down into steps that are easy to manage.
  • Spend pressure-free time together, allowing them to just be.
  • Avoid trying to reason with them about their condition. The deeper you understand dementia, the better you will navigate its challenges.

I have trained the team at Hollenbeck Palms on these strategies, ensuring effective communication with residents who have dementia symptoms. Adopting a similar approach might help you cope with upcoming challenges.

Remember, understanding the intricacies of dementia can assist you and others in their unique journeys. To learn more about Hollenbeck Palms’ Hensel Memory Enhancement Center, reach out to [email protected] or call 323.307.4505. We offer various living and care options in a serene setting.

Warm regards,

Laura Wayman

The Dementia Whisperer