Why Loved-One Experience “Dementia Blindness”

As parents age and face physical and possibly cognitive challenges, many adult children remain in denial concerning the advancement of their parent’s decline.  Even families that are close and spend time together frequently can miss some of the signs of advanced dementia when primary caregivers manage to protect them from noticing the extent of cognitive deterioration.  It is not uncommon for families to ignore red flags of dementia explains psychologist Daniel Kahneman in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, which helps the reader understand caregiver “dementia blindness” and Alzheimer’s denial. 

In a recent Daily Beast article highlighting Kahneman research, it is explained that loved ones often have emotional blind spots concerning their family members that can cause them to misinterpret signs of a neurological problem.  Adult children may interpret classic signs of dementia like confusion or anger as their parent’s normal, but frustrating, behaviour.   Patients with dementia can often unwittingly help create the illusion of cognitive well-being.  Together, despite some obvious signs of dementia, what the mind expects to observe can override what is actually happening.  When loved ones see enough familiar cues, they can be tricked to believe that all is well.  

We know our parents or spouses so well that dementia can be tricky to perceive by loved ones who interpret interactions or impressions through the filter of a lifetime of experiences and preconceptions.   Family members often project their own narrative onto their loved one who may be experiencing cognitive problems, blaming behaviour that would sound dementia alarms to an outsider on typical and familiar reactions – it’s just Dad being difficult again, or Mom trying to be funny.

Read more about understanding dementia disorders and the surprising ways the caregiver mind deceives itself in a new book by psychologist and caregiver Dasha Kiper – Travelers to Unimaginable Lands