When your loved one won’t go to the doctor
Lois was starting to forget things. First it began with forgetting names or words in the middle of a conversation. She quickly dismissed it as a sign of old age, and decided that it wasn’t anything to worry about. But she started to get more embarrassed about her occasional memory lapses, and felt less and less inclined to leave her home for social activities.
She had been cooking for her husband John for years, but, her meals were becoming more bland. Sometimes she forgot vegetables, other times, she forgot the meat.
John noticed things weren’t normal, but he told himself, that these were occasional mistakes, and that it they weren’t a big deal. Things were changing slowly. Lois had good days and days where she’d forget things or lose things. But neither of them were ready to face the idea that there could be something much more serious that needed to be addressed!
Then one day Lois went to the grocery store and didn’t come back for hours. John got really worried, and called the 3 stores that they frequent. None of them could find her!
John then called the police. They told him they had picked up an elderly woman with her features 5 miles away from his home who was in an accident and at the emergency room! She had turned into a one-way street going the wrong way, and got hit by an oncoming car! Because the oncoming car wasn’t going fast, she had a cracked rib, some whip lash and some bruising. She seemed disoriented when they picked her up. She didn’t have ID on her, she couldn’t remember her number, and the hospital was trying to find her next of kin!
Denial of our declining health can be dangerous! Yet for many chronic health diseases, whether its cancer, diabetes or dementia, the prognosis is much better if caught early enough. But if the problem is ignored for too long, the disease has often progressed to the point that very little can be done.
Denial can also exacerbate the decline. If a person’s health habits decline with the illness, and they don’t have anyone to make sure they are eating healthy food, the lack of nutrients can cause further problems. Lack of sleep and lack of mobility, or a tendency to isolate can also further the decline.
Another major problem that can happen with denial is the lack of planning that happens. The family doesn’t have the chance to put their finances in order and there are no contingency plans if the person is not able to make their own decisions. Next of kin may have to make guesses about what the person would want, and this can lead to a lot of tension between family members when trying to make important decisions.
Acceptance of one’s condition is necessary for recovery. So why do so people ignore health signals that would cause concern in others?
Because not admitting a problem allows a person to proceed on with their life as they know it. Being diagnosed with dementia or another mental condition, or loosing one’s independence would require a person to give up their identity as an independent person. Plus it can carry enormous stigma. So we go into denial as a way of avoiding the grief and pain of our loss.
So if we have a family member who is sabotaging themselves, and refusing to accept that they need to see a doctor, what should we do?
Here are 11 steps to help your loved one get to the doctor:
1. Work to let go of your own frustration or impatience with it. You must come from a place of compassion and care to be effective.
2. Resist the temptation to argue with them about it. Arguments cause each side to become more entrenched in their own view.
3. Gather evidence of what you see of concern. Be specific. Include dates and times if you can. Examples include: “Left the stove on Jan 23rd in the evening.” “Forgot my name on Feb 13th at 3pm.”
4. Express concern in terms of “I” statements. Express your worries about your loved one and the consequences of not going to the doctor. Share what you would imagine you would feel if you had such symptoms.
5. Explain that we all have a filter that distorts our reality. Because the emotional circuits of our brain have so much power over the decision-making parts of our brain, the more painful something is, the harder it is for us to be objective.
6. If you suspect they are showing signs of a particular disease, learn more about it, and the dangers of denying the condition. Make sure they are fully aware of the consequences of denial. For example, here is a good list of the dangers of denying dementia.
7. If they lash out at you, don’t take anything they say about you personally. If they make you doubt your concerns, talk to others to get opinions. Try to get opinions from experts.
8. Encourage them to talk about the things being avoided For example, “Why do you think the problem will go away on its own?” Or “What would be the worst thing that could happen if we learned more information about that?” Or “What if my worries come out to be true?”
9. If you are not able to get them to a doctor, you will also have more clout if you can get as many family members who share your concerns to talk to her at the same time. If family members live far away, use Skype to set up a group call.
10. If you don’t have enough support from family, try finding people who they respect ( ie a church pastor or a respected friend) to intervene or mediate.
11. Try asking them to go to the doctor to relieve your concerns. If you can’t go with them, make sure they go with someone you can trust to tell the truth.
In America, we are taught that we need to stay strong and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. This perpetual pressure to “man up” or stay strong, makes us feel weak or incompetent when we experience distressing emotions. So we deny them, or bury them with addictions. Unfortunately, ignoring our emotions may help us in the short term, but in the long term can do tremendous damage to our own health and how we treat others and our environment.
So if you found this article useful, please give the gift of health, and share it with others. Healthier individuals can create a healthier society, and that benefits us all!
Image “Man Making See No Evil Gesture” courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image “Old Man Having Confused” courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image “Planning Denied Means Missions Aim And Objective” courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net