When Denial is Dangerous: How to Keep Mom Safe



Mom is fiercely independent and strives to do everything on her own. You love her for it, but that stubbornness also means she often doesn’t ask for help when she should.

Now that she’s older, you’re worried about Mom’s safety. She denies there is any problem at all, but you can see her struggling.

It’s tempting to go along with Mom and pretend everything’s OK, but denial can be dangerous. Let’s talk about how you can help Mom stay safe.


Mom loves to drive. She loves being able to get to all of her social events. But you’ve noticed her car has more dents than it used to, and you don’t feel safe with her behind the wheel.

Aging often comes with worse eyesight, muffled hearing and slower reaction times. If your mother is an unsafe driver, she is putting herself and other drivers at risk.

If Mom doesn’t believe she’s lost any driving skills, she may feel as though you’re trying to take away her independence. And if driving is her primary mode of transportation, losing her car may be unthinkable.

When it comes to getting Mom to give up her keys, give her alternatives so she doesn’t have to make any other sacrifices. While you’re at it, show her how much nicer the alternatives can be.

Driving alternatives:

  • Create a driving schedule with your family to get your mother where she needs to go. She may love seeing her siblings and children more often.
  • Use a ride-sharing service like Uber or Lyft that can pick Mom up and drop her off at the touch of a button. She may love the feeling of having a driver at her beck and call.
  • Set up carpools with friends. Does her neighbor go to the same bridge club? Perhaps her friends can pick her up on the way to their bingo nights. Driving with friends is more fun that driving alone!

With every option, show your mother the cost savings. Without a car, she won’t need to pay for insurance, gas or car maintenance. More money in her pocket may be just the incentive she needs.

Memory Loss

 Between misplacing keys and forgetting names, we have all had our share of memory loss. But has Mom’s forgetfulness started to impact her safety?

With true memory loss, there is a point at which household tasks become dangerous. That may be leaving the stove on after making tea or burning herself while ironing her shirts. Signs like these mean it’s time to take action.

Rather than arguing over what Mom remembers, try using technology to make her safer. Use technology tools as substitutes so that she can continue doing the tasks she always has.

Memory loss tools:

  • Monitored stove guards automatically turn off the stove either after a certain amount of time or if there is no one in front of the stove. They reduce the risk of fires and burns.
  • Monitored smoke alarms automatically call emergency services if smoke is detected in the house. They decrease the risk of Mom not hearing or responding to a smoke alarm.
  • Reduced-temperature water heaters only allow the water to get up to a safe temperature, reducing the risk of scalding.

Mom may know she has trouble remembering things, but doesn’t want to admit it. Instead of approaching the topic directly, try emphasizing how these tools can make her life easier.

Living Alone

 For many seniors, living alone is the ultimate sign of independence. Mom may vehemently disagree with the idea of moving out of her beloved home. But for you, Mom living alone is a dangerous unknown.

Luckily, there are solutions to help her stay safe without needing to move quite yet.

Home safety tools:

  • Medical alert system. A medical alert gives Mom a way to call for help if she needs it. Choose a fall detection system so that it will go off if she falls, even if she doesn’t want to or is unable to press the button.
  • Grab bars. Install grab bars in the bathroom, where falls are most likely to happen. Find support bars that are decorative in addition to being sturdy. Mom will accept them more easily if they’re nice to look at.
  • Add night lights all around the house. This is the easiest addition to make, and a little extra light can make Mom’s fall risk a lot smaller.

It is unlikely that Mom will want any of these items. Ask her to accept them not because she needs to use them all the time but as a favor to you, just in case, so you don’t worry about her so much.

Keeping Mom Safe

 Mom may think that denial is the easiest way to pretend that she’s not getting older. “Out of sight, out of mind.” But this way of thinking is not a long-term solution. In fact, she may just feel younger when she doesn’t have to struggle with doing things the way she used to.

Your job is to be there for Mom as her support system. These conversations will be difficult, but they are necessary. With you by her side and a little time, you can work together to overcome denial and help her stay safe.

Tracy Layden is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist. Born and raised in Silicon Valley, Tracy leads the marketing efforts at Alert-1, a personal safety technology and consulting firm dedicated to helping seniors live safely and independently. Tracy holds a degree in mathematics from Scripps College and is an accomplished ballroom dancer and equestrian.


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