A well-known and yet hurtful reality of dementia or Alzheimer’s is the forgetfulness and memory loss that can occur. Memory loss is particularly difficult for family members to cope with when their parent or loved one forgets who they are.
Forgetting the names of their children, forgetting that they have children, or mistaking their child for another person or family member is not uncommon for individuals living with dementia or Alzheimer’s. And while this new reality may be shocking, to remind them that they’ve forgotten such an intimate detail about their life can be quite upsetting to them.
When I worked in the nursing home, my training prepared for these types of interactions. I would say hi to some residents who I’d been working with for years and knew that while I may look familiar to them, they sometimes had no idea who I was. Although not being recognized did have an emotional impact on me this is nothing when compared to caregivers who are also daughters, sons, husbands, and wives. This is sometimes the most difficult for family members, and I want to offer tips on how to work through and cope with this specific aspect of dementia care.
Let them be who they are, no questions asked.
Correcting and quizzing are two common responses to loss of recognition that I’ve witnessed both professional and family caregivers use over the years. At times these types of approaches do work, however, in my experience the intent of asking the question is to offer the caregiver reassurance or validation rather than the person living with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
The most common orientation questions are, “Mom, who am I?”, “Who is this?”, “Do you know where you are?”, “Do you know where you live?”. The directness of the question can be confusing for someone living with dementia. Their memory recall is not as fast as ours, so undoubtedly when faced with these types of questions the easiest answer is a sheepish laugh followed by an “I don’t know.”
These types of questions also force the person to suddenly take back control of their situation and surroundings, which can be quite alarming. They’ve had to entrust that the caregiver will provide for them and it’s our job to maintain that sense of safety at all times.
Watch the video below from the Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland as they work through questioning and frustrations that can occur for someone living with Alzheimer’s.
Staying in the moment
Our relationships are built on years of memories, and when someone forgets who you are to them, it can be hurtful and confusing. Spending quality time together will help them feel more secure. Try holding their hand and listening to their favorite song. Spending time on things they enjoy doing or that you shared together in the past is a beautiful experience for both of you. Not only do you get a piece of your relationship back you also provide them with a sense of self.
Unsure of where to start? Check out 4 meaningful ways to spend time with a loved one living with dementia.
Reminiscing is a good tool for stirring up memories for your loved one. Asking broader questions can be a great way to start the reminiscing process. Through conversation and dialog, you may find that your loved one begins to remember so much more.
Many people living with dementia-related to Alzheimer’s remember their childhood through their young adult lives quite vividly. Looking at old photos or discussing old family recipes or family vacations will prompt and orient their memory.
We Remember Their Love When They Can No Longer Remember
Comprehending a life without memories is difficult. Memories mean so much to us. They provide us with a sense of self and stand as a reminder of the journey we have taken in this life. And the memories we share with the people closest to us become an intricate piece of our identity. Alzheimer’s may take these memories away from us, but the inability to remember does not mean that it has to redefine who we are nor does it diminish the importance of the many moments that we have collected over the years.