Anosognosia is defined as the lack of awareness of an impairment. It can occur among individuals suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar disease, or in the lives of some of our seniors, it occurs with dementia. If your parent suffers from dementia, she will most likely have anosognosia if she doesn’t already. The struggle with this condition is that the patient is not aware of it so the patient often can’t help her caregiver address it or work on developing processes for management.
As a caregiver, it will be up to you to be aware of the condition and take some steps to help your parent deal with the fact that she is suffering from dementia even when she can’t recognize it. Here are some tips to help you and any other caregivers in your parent’s life, such as doctors, elder care providers, and other family members.
One day your parent may be somewhat cognizant that her brain is no longer functioning as well as it used to. She may recognize things she says or actions she takes are not logical. She may even vocalize it and show regret. But other days, she may do the exact same thing and have no understanding of what she just did. Her variance on understanding can be affected by her mood, the time of day, whether or not she’s eaten or a myriad of other reasons.
Awareness levels will vary.
Your parent may be very aware of certain aspects of her current life and not others. She may always remember to get the mail each day but can’t remember to turn off the stove. Awareness can vary in its depth and breadth. Try not to make assumptions of what your parent can and cannot do until each area has been evaluated. At this point, you don’t want to take away opportunities for your parent to contribute to the household because she’s struggling in a different area. Find ways she can successfully be a part of her home life.
Listen without judgment.
It will be really hard for your parent to tell you about things she’s struggling with when she has an awareness of them. Be supportive and encourage her to share her feelings openly and honestly, while you do the same. If your parent doesn’t feel like she can speak about her concerns or feels they are looked down upon, she may not continue to share what she’s thinking.
Taking notes each day that your parent can review may help. If a visitor comes and your parent often forgets someone visited, have them write a note to your parent while they are there that you can show to your parent later. Don’t use these tactics to prove her wrong, but use them as gentle reminders of events that she has forgotten due to her anosognosia.
As you help your parent live with her condition, remember it’s not intentional and she can’t help the way her brain now works, or doesn’t work. Enlisting help of others like elder care professionals who can support you as well as your parent may be one way to provide the best care for your parent.