“How do I convince him that he has dementia?”


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I get this question pretty often. It makes sense, right? Your day-to-day would be a lot easier if your loved one living with dementia would just simply accept that they have dementia.

Maybe it’d go something like this:

You: “Remember? You have to move into Memory Care because you have dementia.”

Them: “Oh, right! That makes sense, okay, I’ll get my stuff ready to go.”

When we think about it that way, it sounds pretty silly.

So, how do you convince someone living with dementia that they…are living with dementia? The best answer is this one: you can’t. You can’t really convince someone with dementia that they have dementia. 

But why? Can’t you just repeat it enough times or point out obvious challenges they’re having?

In order to “convince” someone of something, they have to be able to reason, use logic, and then remember what you all talked about. By a moderate stage of dementia, the person’s brain has made all of that pretty challenging.

Even if she’s in an early stage of the disease, accepting that she has a disease is probably pretty traumatic. Even if she’s technically capable of understanding her dementia, trying to force her to accept the diagnosis isn’t going to provide you any help or closure.

Life would be a lot easier for caregivers if we could explain to people with dementia that they need help because they have a brain disease. Unfortunately, though, that’s not how dementia works. We can’t “convince” someone with dementia that they have dementia. 

Even if you could temporarily “convince” them, they probably won’t remember later that you told them. And, most importantly, most people with dementia live in a slightly different reality than we do. Not only is it cruel to tell someone with a brain disease that they have a brain disease, but there is just no point—they aren’t going to believe you.

Here’s what you can do: work around them.

A lot of caregivers ask me how to handle a loved one’s finances when they start to lose their own ability to do so. Instead of telling the person living with dementia that they “can no longer do it themselves,” I suggest ways that the caregivers can work around that person, instead. For example, telling a loved one with dementia that you “want to automate the bills” so everything will be taken care of, or maybe that you want to hire a financial planner to help with sorting through everything.

It’s not a great answer, I know. The bottom line remains the same, though: you can’t “convince” someone with dementia that they have dementia.

4 thoughts on ““How do I convince him that he has dementia?””

  1. So, so true!
    My loved one, LWD, does not accept the dementia diagnosis. There. Is. No. Point. belaboring a reality that does not exist for him. There are MANY realities he can no longer experience.
    It’s just a bit shocking when I’m confronted with yet another altered version of my beloved……and I must adjust MY reality.
    Thank God for my therapist, and Rachel Wonderlin. They carry me, keep me grounded, and educate me..

  2. This is so true. Once you helped me figure out I did not need to convince my mom of her memory issues as I might with other medical issues, it was so much easier to live in her reality. Not always easy but much less conflict.

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of three published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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