Tips for Coping With a Loss of Recognition in Dementia

By Published On: May 11, 2023Categories: Alzheimer's and Dementia, Dementia, Senior Communication
daughter talking to senior mother

Understanding how to navigate a loss of recognition in dementia is important for family caregivers.


You’ve been caring for Mom since her dementia diagnosis. You’ve 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 younger brother or father. Do you correct her, reminding her that you are 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 in dementia is among the more distressing outcomes of the disease on loved ones. It is hard to look into a loved one’s eyes and receive a blank stare in exchange, or even to be called by a different name. It’s essential to set aside your own feelings temporarily, however, while you respond to the individual. (We’ll come back to your emotions in a minute!)

How to Respond to Dementia Recognition Confusion

First, recognize that your attitude and tone of voice are contagious. If you show dismay 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 during your interactions with someone with Alzheimer’s.

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 stories. Long-term memory remains in place a lot longer than short-term memory. Because of this, the older adult should be able to engage in conversations about their childhood and young adulthood, even if present-day memories have faded.

Lastly, make certain you are prioritizing time to take care of yourself and work through the grief that is inherent in providing care for someone with dementia. Although the person is still alive, the abilities and memories they have lost cause grief to people who love them. Speak to a counselor for assistance, and prioritize pastimes you love.

Watching a loved one experience memory loss, including loss of recognition, is heartbreaking. It really isn’t possible to “jog” memories lost to Alzheimer’s by prompting, cajoling, or other means. The individual is unable to retrieve these lost memories in the same manner someone who has lost their sight is no longer able to see.

The very best strategy is always to focus on the abilities and strengths the individual does still have intact, and celebrate those each day. At Golden Harmony, our caregivers are trained and experienced 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 at 919-426-7522 to learn more about our in-home Alzheimer’s services and how we can help family caregivers in Raleigh, Cary, Apex, and other Triangle communities.