Living with Dementia: How to Cope When Your Loved One Forgets You

When any of your loved ones is suffering from disease, their condition affects you as well. This is an especially disturbing phase of life when the condition in question is dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Such issues are characterized by memory regression, so much so that the patient might not even recognize their own children, spouses, siblings, or old friends.

Realizing that you might not be recognized by a beloved friend or family member could be quite difficult to cope with. However, this is a common symptom in the medium and late stages of dementia. The forgetfulness might not manifest itself in the same way for every patient; some might simply forget your name, while others could end up forgetting the relationship altogether. Certain patients have been known to mistake their caregivers for their children.

Additionally, such changes might come with increased anxiety levels, delusions, aggression, etc. This could up the disturbing factor, but remember that it’s you that has to remain in control. Here are a few ways to cope when your loved ones seem to forget you as their dementia progresses:

Understand Why it Happens

When something seems frightening and disturbing to you, take a closer look at why these changes are occurring. This can help us deal with the situation in a more mature and understanding manner.

The first reason for this forgetting, of course, is the natural memory decline that comes with dementia. Depending on the location of the brain damage, many patients might lose the ability to recognize faces, recall names, or pinpoint even recent events in their lives. It’s important to understand that these changes are physical and nothing to do with your relationship with the patient.

Psychological changes are also very much present with the onset of dementia, resulting in delusions and paranoia. This means that the patient is prone to irrational thought and might think they have reason to fear you for some reason. Even if they do recognize your face and remember your name, they might irrationally expect you to harm them.

Delirium is another symptom that might suddenly cause a person with dementia to forget their loved ones. If you feel that this change is a bit abrupt, it might be a good time to call the doctor. The delirium could be caused by a reaction to their medication or some sort of infection.

Finally, it might also help you to realize that the forgetfulness could be a matter of vision loss. Dementia might cause this symptom as well, so remember to take the patient to the eye doctor just in case.  

Acknowledging the Change

The first step in coping with a loved one not recognizing you is to acknowledge the new phase in your life. This is similar to the grieving process, so you should accept your feelings and deal with them in the best way possible. It’s okay to feel sad, down, and even angry at times. However, it’s also important not to take out your frustration on the patient, as you’ll probably regret that most of all.

Giving Reminders

Another thing to acknowledge is that your loved one might feel embarrassed and confused if they realize they’ve been forgetting someone so close to them. Make sure to keep your calm and not let them see how distressed you are. Simply make sure to remind them of your name and relationship whenever you meet them. This could help in getting a normal conversation going without much hassle.

Don’t Take it Personally

The forgetfulness in a dementia patient is due to the progress of the disease, not a conscious choice they make. No one can tell where the brain damage is going to occur and to what extent, so don’t be hurt if your elderly mother remembers your sibling’s name and not yours. This doesn’t mean that they connect more to a certain person, but that the brain connections for that person are still intact.

Stay Gentle

It could be tempting to express your shock or even resentment at not being recognized by your spouse, parent, etc. However, the best way to react is not to increase their worries, but to try and work around them. For instance, don’t point out that the two of you have been married for most of your lives, but try to sing a song that both of you loved. This will give you the chance to experience something familiar with your loved one and change the subject as well.

Try Validation Therapy

Some dementia patients might get confused about their relationships, mixing up their daughter, wife, sister, etc. If this occurs, you might want to set them straight by asking them what a certain relative looked like and what they loved about them.

Above all, it’s important not to force the patient to remember a relationship they’ve forgotten about. if they want to dwell on their memories for a certain person, give them that opportunity.

Recognition is Not Quantifiable

Sometimes, we might even think that there’s no point in going to visit a person with dementia. While the process of a visit to a loved one that doesn’t recognize us might be painful, we don’t know the benefits they’re getting just by our presence.

Even if the patent is not indicating their family’s presence, they do feel and appreciate the touch of a hand, the sound of a voice, or any other gesture. They might also enjoy the company of little children very much. While such benefits are not physically measurable, there is some indication that this comfort will get through to the patient.

Understand How They Feel

It might sometimes seem like a dementia patient is unfeeling and unknowing about their surroundings. They might sit silent and vacant, seemingly paying no attention to the conversations around them. However, the fog of dementia might not be as strong as we think. Many such patients could understand what’s going on around them, even if they don’t fully understand everything.

This is why we should make a great effort to treat such patients as functional humans, not children or invalids. For instance, we could listen respectfully to their stories and even ask their opinion on what to cook that day. Hopefully, they’ll be able to perceive these little details and be all the more responsive for them. When they feel that they’re still loved, they’d be comforted and happier at the end of the day.

Using Pictures and Videos

It would also help you cope if you show your loved one some old pictures and photos. Their condition makes it easier to remember long-ago events than recent ones, so going over them together might be a healing pastime for both of you. They might even be able to recognize the earlier version of you from an old photo, which could be of some comfort.

A kind of photo timeline might help to trigger their memory as well, so try his as your next project. Show your loved one pictures of yourself from early childhood, gradually building up to adulthood. Each photo could have a large label on it with your name as well as the age at the time the photo was taken. While the exercise may not be beneficial for every patient and might lose its effect as the dementia takes over, it’s still worth it for the stimulation and comfort.

You may also let them try using picture dialer phones to make it easier for them to call their loved ones using the telephone.


Having a loved one not recognize you can be difficult to accept, but it’s something that many people have to cope with every day. Reading up on the conditions of dementia and Alzheimer’s can be of great help, as can joining a support group. Make sure to acknowledge your own feelings and take what steps you need to feel better.