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Dementia and Caregiver Coping 101: When Your Parent Doesn't Recognize You

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Dementia and Caregiver Coping 101: When Your Parent Doesn't Recognize You

Caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s disease or other form of dementia brings with it many challenges – both physical and emotional. For many adult children, one of the most heartbreaking of these is when a parent no longer recognizes them.

According to dementia care experts, as a parent’s dementia advances, his or her ability to recognize the faces of their loved ones declines. This often results in diminishing family relationships – an unfortunate and unnecessary situation that can be harmful to both the parent with dementia and their adult children.

Says Heather Miller, Personal Care Administrator at Impressions Memory Care at Bryn Mawr, located in Bryn Mawr, PA, “Because of the inevitable changes that take place with a parent as their dementia progresses, it is extremely important for family members to understand the underlying reasons behind them. Having this knowledge can reduce the emotional impact of these changes and also enable family members to cope more effectively with the differences they see in their parent’s abilities and behavior.

“With dementia, understanding is an important first step in dealing with its many challenges. And as we demonstrate daily at Impressions Memory Care, there are many ways you can improve your parent’s quality of life while also reducing their symptoms of anxiety, agitation, confusion, apathy and aggressiveness.”

“The good news for adult children is that you can still maintain an emotional connection with your parent, even if they might not always recognize you.”

 Why Your Parent with Dementia No Longer Recognizes You

Dementia care authorities tell us that it's common for people in the middle and later stages of memory loss to lose their ability to remember and recognize family members and friends. This is a result of the progressive damage to their brain cells and is the primary reason why your loved one doesn't seem to recognize you.

They say that depending on where the damage occurs in the brain, facial recognition and the ability to recall names, events and fundamental information can become impaired.

New Research Provides Insight into Dementia and the Inability to Recognize Loved Ones

As referenced in the article, Why People with Alzheimer’s are Unable to Recognize their Loved Ones, a new study has provided additional insight into why facial recognition is impaired with dementia. The study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, and led by Sven Joubert, PhD, researched why people with dementia were no longer able to recognize their loved ones’ faces.

Interestingly, the study found that when Alzheimer’s patients looked at people’s faces presented upside-down, they were able to recognize them with about the same speed and accuracy as someone without dementia. However, when the same faces were presented in a normal, right-side-up position, the dementia patients were no longer able to recognize the faces of their loved ones.

The reasons behind this odd phenomenon called “holistic perception” are complex, but they do explain why your parent is unable to recognize you. This is significant, researchers say, because it suggests that it might be perception rather than memory issues that are preventing your parent from knowing who you are. Thus, not being recognized does not mean you’ve been forgotten by your parent.

Coping Tips for When Your Parent with Dementia Doesn’t Recognize You

Regardless of the underlying reasons for a parent’s inability to recognize their adult children, dementia care experts agree that family members should not despair or disengage from their parents’ lives.  Instead, they should continue to engage them in ways that demonstrate their love and stimulate their loved ones’ senses to maintain a connection with them.

Remember also that when your parent acts in ways you find uncomfortable or says inappropriate things, it is the dementia talking and not the person you have known and loved for your entire life. In their time of need, they deserve your continuing love, support and understanding.

The article,My Parent Doesn't Recognize Me Anymore: A Caregiver's Guide to Coping with Alzheimer's”  is one of several resources that offer coping tips for family members whose parents no longer recognize them. Examples include:

  • Staying involved in your parent’s life – Remaining involved in your parent’s life and showing interest in them will be appreciated, even if they have difficulty showing it. Conversely, abandoning your parent because, “they don’t even know who I am,” can lead to feelings of guilt and regret. Maintaining the parent-child connection is beneficial for all parties.
  • Empathizing with their situation – Help your parent with dementia by recognizing their limitations. Always introduce yourself, use their name and remind them who you are. Never test their memory.  For example, when you enter the room, say, “Hi, Dad, I’m your son, Bob. It’s so nice to see you.” Never enter and say, “Hello, do you remember who I am?”
  • Using recommended communications and non-verbal techniques – When interacting with your parent, always approach them from the front and at their level. Maintain eye contact with them and speak slowly. Be prepared to take the lead in the conversation, and don’t ask them questions they might have trouble answering.

    Also, be aware that a parent with dementia can be very intuitive and can pick up on your body language. If you act stressed, hurried or uncomfortable, this can cause anxiety and agitation. Therefore, smile, be affirming, and remain calm and positive in your tone, expressions and demeanor. Always be accepting of them and never argue.

  • Showing your love and affection – A warm hug, a kiss, a gentle touch or a pleasant smile can communicate your affection for your parent and reinforce your life-long bond. Even when they cannot communicate easily or verbalize your name, they can feel loving emotions and be uplifted by them.
  • Appealing to their past interests – Items recalling their past interests and preferences can be used to create a positive response from your parent. By offering a golf magazine to a father who loved golf or a magazine on gardening to the mother who loved her flowers can recreate pleasant memories and boost mood.
  • Using reminiscence activities to connect – Old photo albums and family videos are a great way to bring back pleasant memories of people, places and events for your parent with dementia. Memory care authorities explain that while recent memories may have faded for your parent, past memories are often crystal-clear. Remembering happy times past with your parent can generate conversation and recreate feelings that enhance their sense of belonging and make them feel loved and valued.

Heather adds, “At this point in your parent’s journey with dementia, what is most important is the quality of your time together, not whether your parent recognizes you each day as their son or daughter. Make the most of this time by focusing on pleasant interactions that can offer you both a sense of peace and satisfaction.”

We invite you to contact us directly if you have questions about dementia or would enjoy taking a tour of our specialized memory care community. We also encourage you to read our other timely articles on current caregiver subjects and dementia care topics posted on our website.

We Would Love to Hear from You!

If you have comments or questions about our blog on Coping with Dementia When Your Parent Doesn't Recognize You, we’d love to hear from you. We also encourage you to share any of your caregiving experiences in our comments section.

Engaging Days. Meaningful Moments.

Loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease or other memory impairments require specialized care and support. They also deserve a lifestyle rich in dignity and fulfillment. Impressions Memory Care at Bryn Mawr provides residents with Engaging Days and Meaningful Moments that emphasize individual abilities, encourage socialization and promote the highest level of independence possible. We offer a complete continuum of leading-edge programs, services and amenities that address the total physical, emotional and social needs of residents in a caring setting that offers individual suites with large private baths and the comfort of home. Our memory care community touches hearts and changes lives.

Helping Families Be “Family” Again

Memory loss caused by Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or another form of memory impairment doesn’t only affect the person who has it – it affects the entire family.

If you have a loved one with early- to mid-stage memory loss, you know how challenging it can be to provide the care that’s needed while trying to maintain balance in your life. As care needs increase, you may not be able to meet them physically or emotionally. It’s often difficult to be available to care for your loved one’s health and well-being around the clock.

If and when the time comes to seek additional help, place your trust in Impressions Memory Care at Bryn Mawr. We lift the stresses and worries of being a caregiver from your shoulders, enabling you and your family to enjoy time with your loved one again.

For more information, please call 484.380.5404 or contact us online.