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Weekly Tips & Insights

When Denial Gets In the Way of a Sick Loved One's Care

It can be difficult coming to terms with a loved one’s failing health. When other relatives are in denial about the extent of a loved one’s health decline, it can make the situation all the more frustrating - especially when there are many important decisions to be made regarding the sick person’s care.

In many cases, denial can make people ineffective when it comes to planning for care or seeking helpful support options like palliative care or hospice. But despite the emotional toll a loved one’s illness can take on a family, it’s necessary to ensure a sick individual gets the most fitting care for their condition.

Here are some strategies to help others cope with denial about a sick loved one’s health:


It may seem like someone is trying to downplay an ailing loved one’s health condition, but it could simply be that they haven’t fully grasped the gravity of the condition. Furthermore, misconceptions about hospice, in particular, can deter families from getting a sick loved one the care they could truly benefit from. Send them the doctor’s notes with the details of a sick loved one's condition, send documents or pamphlets about the ideal candidates for hospice, and talk to them about what changes it will mean for a sick loved one's daily life (i.e. no more driving, homebound, etc.).


It’s important to understand that, for many people, denial is a coping mechanism for dealing with painful emotions that come from challenging situations. Denial allows people to avoid difficult circumstances, without having to confront the problem. Let them know that you share their fears, sadness, etc. and try to let them reach acceptance at their own pace, without rushing them.

Ease the Pain

Professionals are there to not only help patients deal with their health conditions but to also support families as they cope with the emotional toll of this type of devastating news. After a diagnosis is given and medical staff has already gone over care options for a sick/aging loved one, don’t forget to look into family support options that can help manage the emotions that go along with the journey of having a loved one in poor health. The Visiting Nurse Association of Greater St. Louis’ care team is more than just medical staff. Social workers, chaplains, and bereavement coordinators are all available to assist families, as needed.

People handle difficult situations in different ways, but these three strategies can help break a person out of denial. Remember, a little bit of compassion and support can significantly help make the experience more bearable for everyone involved.

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