3 Ways to Deal with Family in Denial About Seniors Needing Help

3 techniques that help you convince family members that your older adult has a serious health condition and needs care

When family doesn’t believe seniors need help

You might be frustrated by family members who are in denial about your older adult’s declining health and increasing care needs.

Whether it’s about Alzheimer’s, dementia, fall risk, stroke recovery, or another health condition, their denial can make you feel angry, stressed, and frustrated.

We explain why someone might be in denial and share 3 techniques to help you convince family members that your older adult has a serious health condition and needs caregiving help.

Even if you can’t break through someone’s denial, you can at least move on and make decisions without their input, knowing that you did your best to help them understand.


Why would someone be in denial?

According to Verywell Mind, denial is a defense mechanism, a strategy “that people use to cope with distressing feelings.”

Asking someone to change how they see your older adult threatens their whole world. That’s often why people fall back on denial.

It’s safe and comfortable to pretend that everything is fine and nothing is changing.

For some, denial is a subconscious way to ignore the fact that their parent or spouse is declining. For others, it’s a way to avoid taking on caregiving responsibilities.


3 ways to deal with family in denial

1. Stay calm and be the bigger person
Family in denial about seniors needing help are incredibly frustrating. Even if you really don’t want to bite your tongue, it helps to stay calm and be the bigger person.

Do your best to be kind and understanding when speaking with someone in denial.

Showing anger or being sarcastic will only make them dig their heels in deeper or feel justified in resisting your reasoning.


2. Share educational information
Sometimes denial comes from not fully understanding the situation.

Share educational information that explains your older adult’s condition, typical symptoms, and the type of care they’ll most likely need.

For example, your brother may have no idea how Alzheimer’s or dementia affect people besides the stereotypical memory loss or confusion.

So, he takes mom’s side when she insists that she’s still perfectly capable of driving her car.

Rather than arguing, show him the doctor’s report stating that mom should no longer drive because of her advancing Alzheimer’s.

And, point him to trusted sources of information about Alzheimer’s and dementia – like Alzheimer’s Association or here on DailyCaring.


3. Meet together with an expert
Some family members may not believe you, but might listen to an impartial expert.

Offer to go together to talk with the doctor about your older adult’s health and care needs.

Or, ask an impartial person like a geriatric care manager, elder mediator, or spiritual leader to attend a family meeting and facilitate an open discussion.


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By DailyCaring Editorial Team


  • Reply June 27, 2020

    Nobody Cares

    My sibling in Baldwin, NY was in denial to such great lengths about our mother having clinically diagnosed dementia, he did not care to help our mom until his girlfriend that was visiting the US on a Visa seen our mom dementia for herself, convinced him to arrest me when I had arguement with him, he married this same girl in court to keep her in the country on a pregnancy claim in one vacation week … to get me out of the way to control the liquidity rental income of our mom’s multi-family homes, than to believe his sister telling him our mother has dementia. He has since used our mother’s social security number to refinance his car loan and registered mom’s name for the vehicle, to name a few of his crimes.

    • Reply June 28, 2020


      We’re so sorry to hear about your sibling’s terrible behavior 🙁

  • Reply February 16, 2019


    Yes, Karen, I am in a very similar situation. Makes caring for Dad very difficult. Not sure how best to handle it.

  • Reply February 7, 2019

    Karen Surrett

    I have 2 brothers and both pretend that dad is fine. I’m the only one that helps mom care for him. He doesn’t bother me cause I know he can’t help that he doesn’t remember how to do things anymore. It’s my mom that will drive you crazy! Being around her is so depressing. She’s either complaining or fussing about something.I need help dealing with HER not him, does anyone else have this problem?

  • Reply March 19, 2017


    If the family’s in denial, how do you have a caregiver?

    • Reply March 20, 2017


      Great question! The article is directed at the family caregiver who is trying to convince other people in the family that the older adult needs more help. Often, there’s a primary caregiver who sees the decline, usually because they see the older adult frequently. Other family members who aren’t close to the situation are more likely to be in denial that the decline is happening. That can cause disagreements about hiring in-home caregiving help or considering assisted living.

      • Reply February 11, 2021


        We finally solved the problem of denial by having both parents stay for a two week visit at the “deniers” homes. That visit finally brought the issue to light.

        • Reply February 11, 2021


          That’s a very effective way to show someone in denial exactly what the real situation is! Thank you for sharing.

  • Reply November 10, 2015

    Peter Kang

    I’ve actually written something similar to this article as well. There are definitely other signs that you should check out as well. For example, if you notice and emptier than usual fridge or lots of spoiled food, it might be a sign that your loved one isn’t eating properly because they’re unable to go outside. This can also lead to a decline in physical health and your loved one might look more frail.

    I definitely agree with you that as a caregiver for your loved one, educating yourself is one of the best things to do! There are tons of great resources out there and many of them are free.

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