What to Do When a Person With Dementia Doesn’t Recognize You

You’ve been taking care of Mom since her dementia diagnosis. You have been working through a number of the challenging symptoms. However one day, she looks at you and calls you by a different name – that of her husband or younger brother or father. 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?

When a person with dementia doesn’t recognize you, it’s difficult to know how to respond appropriately. The loss of recognition is one of the more distressing outcomes of dementia on family members. It’s hard to look into a loved one’s eyes and receive a blank stare in return, or even to be called by a different name. It is important to set aside your own feelings temporarily, however, as you respond to the individual. (We will come back to your emotions in a moment!)

Simple Tips to Respond to Dementia Recognition Confusion

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

Next, reinforce that you know who the person 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 anecdotes. Long-term memory remains in place much longer than short-term memory. As a result, the older adult should be able to participate in discussions about their childhood and young adulthood, even if present-day memories have faded.

Lastly, be sure you are prioritizing time to take care of yourself and work through the grief that is inherent in taking care of someone with dementia. Although the person is still alive, the abilities and memories they have lost cause grief to those who love them. Talk to a counselor for help, and take plenty of time for pastimes you enjoy.

Watching a loved one experience memory loss, including loss of recognition, is heartbreaking. It really isn’t possible to “jog” memories lost to dementia by prompting, cajoling, or other means. The senior is unable to recover these lost memories just as someone who has lost their sight is no longer able to see.

The very best strategy is always to focus on the strengths and abilities the individual does still have intact, and celebrate those each day. At Radiant Health Services, our caregivers are specially experienced and trained in positive and creative dementia care techniques. We are always available to offer additional resources and tips to help you and someone you love. Contact us any time online or at (240) 673-6377 for additional details on our in-home care dementia services and how we can help you during your caregiving journey.

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