What to Do When a Loved One Does’t Understand They Have Alzheimer’s

There’s an estimated 5.8 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease. And, it’s estimated that 81% of seniors with Alzheimers don’t understand that they have it. This is a condition known as anosognosia.

This term is derived from a Greek word that means “without knowledge of disease”. Older adults with anosognosia lack the necessary self-awareness to recognize that they are ill. They may claim that their memory is fine despite behaviors that prove otherwise.

What Causes Anosognosia?

Atrophy in the right frontal lobe of the brain due to Alzheimer’s can cause this condition. This part of the brain is responsible for organizing, problem-solving, processing experiences, and much more. As Alzheimer’s progresses and damages this area of the brain, the senior may become unaware that they have an illness.

It’s important to note that this condition is different from being in denial about a diagnosis. While denial is a normal reaction to the diagnosis of a memory-affecting disease, a person with anosognosia truly does not understand that they are battling a disease.

Helping your loved one understand their diagnosis can be a monumental task. You may be wondering how to discuss their condition with them and how to effectively communicate with them. Here are a few important things to remember.

Be Gentle

Using reason or evidence to explain their disease to them is not effective. It’s likely to upset them and make them even more convinced that they’re right. A more effective strategy is to stay calm and focused on their feelings when expressing your concerns.

Consider how you would feel if everyone around you was asking you if you remembered something or telling you that your recollection of events was wrong. When a person has Alzheimer’s disease, their perception of reality can be completely different from everyone else’s. Reminding them of this can leave them sad, confused, or even depressed.

Your instinct may be to correct your loved one, but research shows that learning what’s behind those feelings or joining them in their world can be the kindest, most respectful way to handle their beliefs and perceptions.

Present Solutions Positively and Subtly

The less your loved one feels that they’re being limited for reasons they don’t understand, the less likely they are to resist help. When someone has anosognosia, it can help to be creative and offer solutions in a positive way rather than talking about the problem.

For example, you might say “Let’s go for a walk & enjoy some fresh air together” instead of “It’s not safe for you to go outside alone, so I need to go with you”. The first option is more positive and easier to accept.

Work With Their Doctors & Care Team

When your loved one’s symptoms are interfering with their daily lives, it’s important to discuss it with their doctors & caregivers. At Oasis Dementia Care, our mission is to provide the highest level of care for our neighbors, and to also assist Tristate families that are dealing with dementia. We strive to get to know you and we care about providing the best care possible. If you’re interested in learning more about the community at Oasis Dementia Care, please contact us.


Visit us.

We’d love to meet you. Schedule your tour today and learn more about our Oasis Community.

Skip to content
WE ARE HIRING!  See Open Positions