It’s common for adult children of aging parents to notice signs of decline before their elderly loved ones do. The problem isn’t that seniors aren’t as aware of the challenges they face in life. It’s that many people experience denial when posed with challenges associated with aging and the possibility of making significant changes to accommodate them.
What Is Denial?
While it may seem completely ridiculous to an outside party, denial is actually the brain’s effort at protecting itself. It’s a defense mechanism that involves refusing to acknowledge the reality of a situation in order to avoid anxiety or other distressing emotions. People in denial usually feel overwhelmed and stressed out about sudden changes in their lives or lived realities, but they can eventually adapt and accept the situation.
Signs a Senior Loved One Is In Denial
It’s not hard for those who provide ongoing care for seniors to tell when a loved one is in denial. They often refuse to talk about problems, blame others for issues that are coming up as a result of their own actions, justify behavior in unreasonable ways, and put off important conversations by claiming that they’ll address problems in the future without returning to the subject. All of these behaviors can be incredibly stressful, especially for worried family members.
Why Older Adults May Be in Denial
The first step towards having a productive conversation with an older adult who is in denial about their ability to continue living alone safely is to try to understand the source of anxiety causing the need for maladaptive coping mechanisms like denial. Everyone is different, but there are four uniquely common underlying reasons for seniors to refuse to admit they need help.
For some people, the idea of moving into assisted living feels like a blow to their pride because it requires admitting that they need help. These seniors often grew up in families that prioritized stoicism and learned not to complain, even in the face of hardship.
Some seniors become ashamed that they are no longer capable of what they once were. This is especially true for people who need help with very personal activities like bathing and using the bathroom.
Fear is a very common, and understandable, emotion in older adults. Seniors may be afraid that they’ll no longer be able to maintain independence, and anxiety about end-of-life concerns can compound that fear.
People can develop mood disorders at any age, but depression in seniors is particularly common. Depressed loved ones may seem more withdrawn or start making comments about passing away.
How to Address These Issues
Once a family caregiver has determined what underlying issues are causing an elderly loved one’s denial and subsequent unwillingness to talk about appropriate senior living options, they can find better ways of addressing the situation. Prepare for the conversation by trying to see things from the other person’s point of view and coming up with ways to change the narrative about moving to a new community.
If an aging parent is afraid to give up their independence, remind them that there are plenty of independent living options that will still provide a level of safety and comfort that’s not possible to maintain alone at home. If they’re embarrassed about needing help, try to focus on all of the things that they can still do for themselves. If there are concerns about depression, it may be worth speaking with the loved one’s primary care physician about screening and potential treatment options.
It’s a Process
Talking to a senior who’s in denial about taking advantage of all that retirement communities have to offer isn’t a one-time conversation. It requires ongoing dialogue and regular check-ins to be sure that the person’s needs are being met in the meantime.
Beginning by suggesting less overwhelming options like hiring a housekeeper or a part-time personal caregiver can help to win over hesitant loved ones. Once seniors see that accepting help will not prevent them from living fulfilling, independent lives, they may begin to think differently about moving to a retirement community.
Find the Right Option
When seniors are hesitant about asking for or receiving help, choosing the right assisted living community in Winston-Salem is very important. Before booking a tour, do some research into local communities to be sure they will offer all that the hesitant loved one will need to continue living a fulfilling life.
At Heritage Woods, all of our residents are encouraged to maintain as much independence as possible, continue engaging in their favorite hobbies, make new friends, learn new things, and have new experiences. Call (336) 768-2011 to request more information about our community or schedule a tour.