Gary's Guidance: Denial of One’s Limitations Can Be a Dangerous Thing

October 2014

I have heard stories shared by adult children and spouses being embattled with their loved ones who have Alzheimer’s disease or some other type of dementia. A universal concern is whether the person with dementia is acting safely. These safety issues can involve a senior driving a car, cooking on a stove, taking medications, walking with risk of falling, climbing stairs, smoking cigarettes with inattention, and drinking alcohol.

Often the person with dementia inflates their functional abilities insisting that they are still independent and are ok. When cognitive impairment involves the executive functions of the frontal lobes of the brain, an older adult’s ability to remain safe is compromised by impaired thinking, loss of reasoning, impaired judgment, lack of insight, lack of self-awareness, inability to self-regulate behavior or control one’s impulses, and loss of memory. There are other regions of the brain that can be impacted by dementia in relation to the frontal lobes also being compromised.

An elderly person generally knows that aging robs oneself of their independence and can contribute to losing control of their environment. When a person cannot control change they may feel helpless, threatened, and resistive. Generally, the more loss experienced, the more control one wants to assert regardless of whether it is appropriate or not to the situation.

People have a basic need to control their environment so that they can better deal with life’s issues and circumstances. When memory and other cognitive impairments exist an elderly person will fight for their independence. It is important for family members, care givers and professionals not to fall into their own form of denial whereby minimizing an older adult’s ability to function safely.

To obtain more information about aging safely with dementia, please contact your local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Gary Kozick, LCSW