When a Loved One with Alzheimer's Doesn't Recognize You

HearingaidManCreditJDMasonUnsplashPhoto credit D Mason

Watching a loved one move through the stages of Alzheimer's disease (AD) can be one of life's toughest and most heartbreaking challenges. If we had to list examples of emotions by the distress they cause us, at the top of the list would be watching someone we love experience physical and mental pain that we cannot relieve. For many caregivers, next on the list at least for many caregivers, would be having to live with the fact that a loved one no longer recognizes us for who we are. 

When my family members were residents of a care facility, I asked one of the nurses at the nursing home if my mother-in-law knew who I was. I was aware she could not have told anyone my name or my exact purpose in her life. That much was evident. However, I wondered if she knew that I was there to see her. The nurse assured me that seeing me step off the elevator was a highlight of my mother-in-law's day. I was glad about that. I felt my visiting her was important no matter what she "knew," but it was nice to hear those words from the nurse just the same. Spouses and adult children of people with AD and other dementias often have to brace themselves for a time when their loved one no longer recognizes them. 

Not Being Recognized Doesn't Mean We're Forgotten: The pain of walking into a room and having one's spouse or parent does not recognize us can be hurtful and trigger some strong emotions. Sometimes, adult children especially will ask, "why should we visit them? Why go through the pain of sitting there, when they don't even know who we are?"

I can only give my own thoughts on this situation as an experienced family caregiver. What I say to people is that their loved one has not "forgotten them." Even though the person may not indicate in any way that your presence is known, it may well be that the touch of your hand, the sound of your voice, or even some sense we cannot quantify will get through to this person, somehow.

A Person with Alzheimer's Can Still Feel: It is believed that people in comas often hear conversations around them. If this is so, how can we know for certain what a person locked in the fog of Alzheimer's really does, or does not, understand? I believe in touching people, caring lovingly for them, 

Continue reading on Agingcare for more discussion about the painful times we have when our loved one no longer recognizes us:

Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.“I hold onto your book as a life preserver and am reading it slowly on purpose...I don't want it to end.” ...Craig William Dayton, Film Composer

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When a Loved One with Alzheimer's Doesn't Recognize You