“She KNOWS something is wrong with her.”

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A woman in the audience raised her hand. “I have a good friend with dementia, and sometimes she’ll say, ‘I know something is wrong with me.’ It really breaks my heart, but I don’t know what to say! Should I tell her she has dementia?”

Here’s what I said:

She is already aware that there is something wrong, and we don’t want to make her feel worse by reminding her that she’s right. This woman already has something called ANOSOGNOSIA. Anosognosia means that a person is unaware of their own condition. While she knows something is wrong, she doesn’t know what it is. Let’s not tell her that she has a brain disease.

What we DO want to do is to put the “blame” back on ourselves! Make your friend feel better by suggesting that you’re having a bad day yourself. When she says, “Something is wrong with me,” you can say, “Me too, I must be having an off day! I don’t feel great today, maybe I’m getting a cold. My brain feels foggy!”

No one wants to feel alone. No one wants to feel like they are on a sinking ship, while everyone else is in a lifeboat. Make your friend feel like you’re both in the same boat, and this will alleviate a lot of her anxiety.

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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