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What Can You Do When A Dementia Patient Refuses Care?

November 07th 2023

One of the most challenging aspects of seeing a loved one facing the initial emergence of dementia is the unawareness and often, denial of the disease. The confusion causes upset for all parties, as the sufferer cannot see the problem or the need for assistance. Often, due to the confusion they experience, people with dementia may refuse support from others . Refusing medication or personal care can inevitably lead to a decline in an individual's physical and mental health. 


When it comes to the dilemma of a dementia patient refusing to go into care or accept the support they need, this is a difficult situation that needs a resolution. Whether your loved ones are refusing food, medication, healthcare assistance or a stay in a dementia care home, there is a specific approach to dementia care that allows you to consider their feelings and demands. The solution often starts with understanding why your loved one is resistant to care and knowing the best ways to support them during this challenging time.


How do You Care for a Dementia Patient Who is Refusing Care?

If your loved one is refusing help, they can become distressed or aggressive if they feel like they are being forced into something. 

Caring for someone with dementia will never be easy. But, here are a few ways in which you can help them understand that they need to accept dementia care without it resulting in a battle.


Dealing With Dementia - Reasons for Resistance 

Why are they refusing dementia help at home?

The first step in encouraging your relative to accept help is to discover the reasons WHY they are refusing help.

Dementia patients struggle with their memory, language and their ability to reason and such complications mean their method of defence when they are unsure what is happening, is to say "NO" automatically! It's important to remember that refusal isn't always verbal. Your relative can deny help non-verbally, and you must look out for these warning signs, too. 


Some of the most common reasons for resistance among dementia patients include: 

  • They don't understand or can't comprehend what you are telling them, or what you are proposing.
  • They feel like they are being forced into something against their own will.
  • They genuinely don't believe they have an illness or require any assistance in daily life.
  • You are asking something unreasonable of them, or that goes against their personal preferences. For example, they might be refusing food because you are asking them to eat something they have never liked
  • They’re memory loss might mean that they don’t remember who you are and therefore they no longer trust you.


Some ways to respond to resistance to care include:


  • Always give clear explanations about what is about to happen.
  • Try to go at their pace and avoid rushing them. Understand that dementia can cause delayed responses.
  • Let your loved one know that you care. Sometimes people with dementia can be aware that they rely on others for support and may refuse care to avoid being seen as a burden.
  • Don’t ask too much all at once. Give them time to process instructions or information.
  • Show dignity and respect by acknowledging their needs and offering choices, This also helps to rebuild trust.

Dementia often sparks fear which can be another cause of refusing help. If your loved one also suspects they have on-set dementia, they might refuse a doctor's appointment due to the fear of diagnosis. 

Although a loved one's resistance to care can be due to irrationality and confusion, often, there is some degree of the reasoning behind their decision. Once you understand why a dementia patient refuses to bathe, take medication or eat a meal, refusal is easier to tackle. This makes it easier to find a compromise, so they receive the help they need, while still respecting their human rights. 


Patience is Key With Dementia Care 

It is important to have patience when caring for someone with dementia at home. As with, most aspects of life, patience is key.

When coping with dementia, your relative will find it hard to concentrate, might struggle to hold a conversation, turn aggressive, wander off, and much more. It is important to remember that these discrepancies are implications of the disease and cannot be helped. Therefore, patience and understanding are vital.


Ask Questions And Reflect Upon Decisions They Would Have Made Pre-Dementia

When you develop dementia, you don't automatically lose your right to make decisions or say 'no'. These decisions aren’t always impaired by dementia, sometimes it is because it genuinely goes against the individual's interests. 


For example, you might try and get your relative out of the house for the afternoon, to which they decline. But, you must consider, is this something they would have liked pre-diagnosis? If you suggest a shopping trip, but they have never enjoyed shopping, it is their right to say no. However, because of their diagnosis, this can be confused with your loved one being resistant or challenging. 

Asking your loved one questions and reflecting on your knowledge of what they liked before they were diagnosed will give you a better understanding of how they feel and how to navigate around the situation. 


Give your relative options or choices 

Somewhat linked to our point above, giving your relative a choice or options demonstrates care with dignity at its core. Dementia essentially robs you of your independence, which will be a traumatic experience for all. So, giving your loved one options with regard to their daily life or care plans is essential. 

If they don't believe they need medical assistance or help, sometimes those decisions have to be made for them. However, giving them options on the smallest decisions, such as day trips or mealtime, will help them to feel somewhat in charge of their life. 

If your loved one is in the early stages of dementia, they might be willing to accept dementia care at home for the time being. If so, it's an excellent idea to allow them to help you decide who they welcome into their home and what tasks they need assistance with.  


Seek the Support of Dementia Care Professionals When You Need it

One of the most critical aspects of helping dementia patients is to help yourself first and foremost. You can experience a lot of challenging behaviour from dementia sufferers, and it can take its toll on you both mentally and physically. 


When you experience this sort of burnout, it can halt the level of care that you can provide, and you can become lax and unattentive to your loved one. You also might find it becomes impossible to complete everyday tasks such as administering medication or getting them to eat or drink, which becomes extremely dangerous. 

Rather than suffering in silence, we advise seeking the support of dementia care professionals such as dementia nurses, specialists and doctors with years of experience in dementia care who will help. This can be in the form of dementia respite care or full time support in a care home environment.  Dementia care homes ensure your loved one is safe 24/7 if they require this kind of attention. They also specialise in activities for people with dementia like reminiscence therapy to ensure they still enjoy a quality of life. 

Specialist Dementia Care Homes

You don't have to do this by yourself, and asking for help isn't giving up! Dementia is a notoriously challenging disease, and people turn to professionals every day with their loved one's best interests at heart.

At Select Healthcare, we have a number of dedicated dementia care homes specialising in supporting individuals with Alzhiemer’s disease, vascular dementia, Parkinson’s disease or any other dementia related condition. If you’d like more information about how we support people with dementia and their families, or advice about moving someone with dementia into a care home, you can browse our list of dementia care facilities or contact our helpful team who will be happy to answer your questions.

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