How to Cope When a Loved One With Dementia Cannot Recognize You

daughter talking to senior mother
One of the biggest challenges for families caring for a loved one with dementia is when they can no longer recognize them.

You’ve been taking care of Mom since her diagnosis of dementia. You have been working through many of the challenging symptoms. Yet one day, she looks at you and calls you by a different name – that of her husband or father or younger brother. Do you correct her, reminding her that you’re her son? Should you let it slide, pretending you did not notice the mistake? Or, should you just roll with it, accepting the new identity she has given you?

The loss of recognition is one of the more painful effects of Alzheimer’s on family members. It’s hard to look into a loved one’s eyes and receive a blank stare in return, or to be called by a different name. It’s important to set aside your own personal feelings temporarily, however, while you respond to the person. (We will get back to your feelings in a moment!)

How to Respond to Dementia Recognition Confusion

First, realize that your attitude and tone of voice are infectious. If you show alarm at the individual’s memory lapse, they will certainly feel dismayed as well, though they won’t specifically understand why. Keep a calm, cheerful countenance throughout your interactions with someone with dementia.

Next, reinforce that you know who the individual is. Use their name in your conversations, according to their sense of reality. If they believe you are a brother or husband, for instance, call them by their first name instead of “Mom.” Try speaking about past, familiar stories. Long-term memory remains in place considerably longer than short-term memory. For this reason, the older adult should be able to take part in discussions about their childhood and young adulthood, even though present-day memories have faded.

Lastly, be sure you are prioritizing time to care for yourself and sort out the grief that is inherent in providing care for someone with dementia. Though the person is still alive, the abilities and memories they have lost cause grief to people who love them. Talk to a counselor for help, and prioritize hobbies you love.

Watching someone you love experience memory loss, including loss of recognition, is heartbreaking. It really isn’t possible to “jog” memories lost to Alzheimer’s by cajoling, prompting, or any other means. The person is unable to recover these lost memories in the same way someone who has lost their sight is no longer able to see.

The most effective approach is always to concentrate on the abilities and strengths the person does still have intact, and celebrate those each day. At Serenity Home Care, our caregivers are specially experienced and trained in positive and creative Alzheimer’s care techniques. We are always available to provide you with additional resources and ideas to help you and someone you love. Contact us online any time at 250.590.8098 for more information on our in-home care dementia services and how we are available to assist you throughout your caregiving journey.