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Does My Mother Know She Has Alzheimer's?

by Carole Larkin, Alzheimer's & Dementia Expert
February 16, 2012

Question: My aged mother has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and she has been undergoing treatment but I don’t think she realizes that she is ill. Could she have lost the ability to understand that she has Alzheimer’s?


Some people never understand that they have Alzheimer’s or another dementia. It’s called Anosognosia (a lack of ability to know that they have a disability). The portion of the brain that controls our awareness about ourselves is damaged by dying neurons. Biologically they can’t know that they have a cognitive illness. That’s different than denial. Denial is a purposeful thought process that rejects something they inherently know to be true. Some people do know and are aware that something is wrong with their thinking processes. They may not know exactly what it is, but they know that something is not right, that they are different than other people. Some people will say “I have Alzheimer’s” some will say I have memory problems” or any one of a number of similar things. It’s really depends on the individual.  I can say that if someone understands that their thinking is impaired, it happens fairly early in the diseases. Sometimes the knowledge stays with them months or years, sometimes not. It depends upon how fast the disease proceeds and which portions of the brain become impaired.

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Carole Larkin MA, CMC, CAEd, QDCS, EICS is a geriatric care manager who specializes in helping families with Alzheimer’s and related dementias issues. She also trains caregivers in home care companies, assisted livings, memory care communities, and nursing homes in dementia specific techniques for best care of dementia sufferers. Her company, ThirdAge Services LLC, is located in Dallas, TX.

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Your Answers and Comments

Miriam Zucker on Feb 20, 2012 03:20 PM

This is an excellent question. 

The answer is a thorough one , combining concrete dementia information with experiential knowledge. The latter being so important.

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