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What To Do When a Person with Dementia Doesn’t Remember You

Older adult woman hugging her elderly mother

It’s one thing to understand how dementia affects your loved one, yet it is something else entirely to experience these effects. So, what do you do when a loved one with dementia starts forgetting family members?  It’s not uncommon for someone in the middle and later stages of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia to lose the ability to remember and recognize others. However, not being recognized doesn’t mean you’ve been forgotten.

Yes, the pain of walking into a room and having a loved one not recognize you can be hurtful and may trigger some strong emotions like grief, fear, anger and even confusion. It can even make you wonder if you should continue to visit. Even so, understanding the science behind why your family member fails to recognize you may encourage you to keep trying.

Why Your Loved One May Not Remember You

There are several possibilities for why your loved one doesn’t recognize you besides memory loss including:

  • Paranoia and delusions: Sometimes with dementia, a psychological change can occur causing paranoia or delusions to develop. Even if they do recognize you, these irrational thoughts and feelings can cause your loved one to fear you and believe untrue things about you. If your parent says hurtful things, remember they’re not trying to hurt you — it’s their dementia talking.
  • Delirium: If your family member’s failure to recognize you happens suddenly, an infection or medication interaction could be causing their delirium. If you notice this, contact their physician as soon as possible.
  • Vision Loss: It’s not uncommon for someone with dementia to experience a significant decline in vision that goes unnoticed. So, it’s possible your loved one can’t see you well enough to recognize you.

How To Cope With Your Loved One’s Memory Loss

Here are some things you can do to help you get the most out of your time with your parent.

  • Acknowledge the loss: It’s okay to let yourself feel a sense of loss and grieve your loved one’s decline.
  • Remind: If you sense your family member doesn’t recall your name or who you are, simply remind them once by saying, “We haven’t seen each other in a while. I’m your nephew Sam.”
  • Be gentle: When your loved one doesn’t remember you, don’t increase their anxiety or worries by pointing out why they should know you or how long you’ve known each other. Instead, try to change the subject or sing a favorite song.
  • Don’t argue, accept: Your family member may not respond to your logical arguments when they are off the mark or wrong. For example, if your parent insists you’re their sister, don’t correct them. Instead, redirect the conversation by asking them to tell you more about her.
  • Connect emotionally: If you can let go of the hope of your parent returning to mental clarity and instead just try to connect with them on an emotional level, chances are you’ll both enjoy your time together more.
  • Take care of yourself: As you work to stay connected, it’s important to take a step back from time to time. Be sure to treat yourself with the same kindness and compassion you’re showing your loved one.

How To Help Someone With Dementia Remember

How can you communicate with your loved one who has dementia, even when you’re not sure you’re getting through? Is there a type of dementia communication that you can use to help you? Below are some suggestions of things to try, but remember, what works on one day might not work on the next.

Engage their senses: Try the sensation of touch by giving your parent a foot or hand massage. You can engage their sense of smell by bringing them their favorite cologne or perfume. You can also try listening to music from their youth together.

Share old photos: Looking through albums of old photos may give them an opportunity to talk about people and events. Plus, you may learn some things you didn’t know. You can also put together a photographic timeline of yourself with photos from infancy, early childhood, pre-teen, teen, and young adult years up to the present moment.

Make a Connection That’s Heart Felt

At Freedom Village at Brandywine, our memory care neighborhood features person-centered care in a setting that is designed for those with dementia. An important part of our specialized care is an innovative program called Heartfelt Connections – A Memory Care Program®.

Along with our highest quality of skilled nursing care, Freedom Village is the safest place for someone with dementia and also helps preserve everything that brings meaning to your loved one and your family.