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What Do I Do If My Loved One with Dementia Doesn't Recognize Me?

By Beverly Theis, LCSW, Director of Resident and Family Support

One of the most difficult moments of each dementia journey is when a loved one doesn’t recognize you.  During some stages, they may not remember your name or relationship, but you remain familiar to them and they feel loved in your presence. 

They may also confuse your relationships. For example, a mother may mistake her son for her husband.  She may be thinking of her husband from many years ago and her son may resemble his father at that age.

But what do you do when your loved one doesn’t recognize you at all?

There are times when psychiatric symptoms result in your loved one not recognizing a spouse or child at all.  If that loved one is experiencing paranoia, it can result in feelings of being unable to trust you.

Delirium is another psychiatric symptom.  If he/she suddenly doesn’t recognize you, there may be a medical reason, including a possible side effect of a newly added medication. Talk to their doctor about it immediately.

What can you do?

Be gentle with yourself.  The dementia journey is a perpetual grieving process.  This issue is not about you personally, though it certainly feels that way.

Perhaps try saying “It’s good to see you again.” Then state your relationship and name (e.g. “I’m your wife, Sarah”) or simply change the subject.  Don’t challenge your loved one, as that will likely make him/her feel anxious about not knowing something they should know.  He/she may sense your sadness or discomfort with the situation, as a person with dementia still has the ability to feel empathic toward someone, though unable to express or understand it.

Try to remember to be in the moment with your loved one and make him/her feel secure and safe.  They may not know the reason for your visit, or even who you are, but they can feel our love and presence.

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