How to speak to a man who’s in denial

Tough question: how do you talk to a smart, responsible man, aged about 70, and tell him he must plan for his life possibly going wrong?

Events such as strokes, accidents, back injuries, mental illness and divorce can happen to anyone, but few people want to talk about what this could mean for their future, especially us men.

But it’s the conversation we need to have.

This was a hot topic in the office recently as we asked how many of our father or friends this age had prepared for a “major event”. The answer was almost zero.

We agreed that most men, including myself, find it hard to face the likelihood of anything going wrong in our lives. Things are good and we don’t want to think about the possibility of something negative happening.

But the only time “bad” things happen is when we don’t have our affairs in order when a big event does occur. Families are left struggling to figure out what the patient wants, unsure of their wishes.

Our website agedcare101 has a section where we discuss dementia and loss of capacity, but it’s important to remember these events can happen sooner. So we concluded we need to have a section to encourage men to speak to their families early on.

Our plan? First, we looked at the occurrence of “bad events” for this age group. Secondly, we made a list of things the man should do, and provide the tools so he can carry these out. Thirdly, we decided we need one day a year where family can discuss any plans with the man to ensure they still reflect his wishes.

We agreed a stroke was a likely event. The National Heart Foundation website shows an average of 13,500 men aged 65 to 74 will die of medically related ‘events’ (meaning outside of accidents) every year. Of these, 9% or 1,200 will die of a stroke, but 7,600 will have a stroke and live. That is 21 men a day, every day. And quality of life after a stroke is often never the same.

Then we made a list of questions. Does he know what he wants if he can’t make the decision for himself?  Where are the passwords to bank accounts so family can access money? Who will have the authority to make medical decisions if he is incapacitated? Who can make any financial and legal decisions? Does he want all family members to be involved or just one or two?

If he says no, remind him that without a plan in place, these decisions will be made by others at a time when people are often under emotional and financial strain.

So really there is no excuse not to make such a plan because your family will always support any measures to help out in advance.

What do you think of our plan for an annual review day? And what would your advice be to start the conversation?

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A special thanks to our contributors

Jill Donaldson


Jill has been practicing as a clinical physiotherapist for 30 years. For the last 13 years she has worked solely in the Aged Care sector in more than 50 metropolitan and regional facilities. Jill has also toured care facilities in the US and Africa and is a passionate advocate for both the residents in aged care and the staff who care for them. She researches and writes for DCM Media.

Chris Baynes

DCM Media, agedcare101

Chris has been a journalist and publisher in the retirement village and aged care sectors for 11 years. He has visited over 250 retirement villages and 50 aged care facilities both within Australia and internationally. Chris is a regular speaker at industry conferences plus is a frequent radio commentator.

Annie Donaldson

Nurse and Carer

Annie has a long career in both nursing and the media. She has planned and co-ordinated the medical support from both international TV productions and major stadium events. In recent years she has been a primary family carer plus involved in structured carer support.