Practical resources to help family caregivers in the midst of caring for someone

How to cope when someone forgets who you are

It can be very difficult to cope when someone forgets who you are as a result of dementia. This is especially true when the person is a parent, partner/spouse, or someone who has known you for a long period of time. Memory loss is one of the seven main symptoms of dementia, and it can be one of the most challenging.

For caregivers, it can be quite disheartening. Even though the caregiver is aware the disease has caused damage to the brain and they know their relationship was meaningful and significant, they still experience sadness and a sense of loss. It’s important to acknowledge and not minimize this sense of loss.

In my coaching practice, these suggestions have helped caregivers cope with this difficult reality.

What to do when someone with dementia doesn’t recognize you:

  • Avoid quizzing the person about who you are, this can elicit feelings of shame and guilt and highlight the loss of recognition.
  • Help the person remember by stating and repeating who you are by name and association. For example: “Hi Dad, it’s me, your daughter Samantha.” This can reassure your parent.
  • Reminisce using pictures and familiar items, or create a memory book to support their memory.

Emotional memory is a strong force and often preserved in dementia.

Maya Angelou’s famous quote states, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  

The person’s memory fades away yet they do remember how you made them feel.  A caregiver’s actions and reactions towards the person truly do matter. To bring joy, here are some simple things to try:

  • displays of love and affection (hugs, holding hands, smiling, kissing)
  • regular visits
  • walking in the park
  • listening to music and dancing
  • laughing and telling jokes
  • eating together
  • enjoying favourite foods.  

These actions can have a lasting emotional impression in your relationship with the person with dementia.

What are your favourite ways to create a positive emotional memory?

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