How to Handle Mistaken Identity in Dementia

How to Handle Mistaken Identity in Dementia

You have been taking care of Mom since her dementia diagnosis. You have 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 father or younger brother. Do you correct her, reminding her that you’re her son? Should you let it slide, pretending you didn’t notice the mistake? Or, should you just roll with it, accepting the new identity she has given you? What’s the best way to handle mistaken identity in dementia?

The loss of recognition is among the more painful outcomes of dementia on loved ones. It’s hard to look into a loved one’s eyes and receive a blank stare in return, or even to be called by a different name. It is essential to set aside your own personal feelings temporarily, however, while you respond to the individual. (We will get back to your emotions in a moment!)

How to Respond to Mistaken Identity in Dementia

First, know that your tone or voice and attitude are infectious. If you show alarm at the individual's memory lapse, they will feel dismayed as well, though they will not specifically understand why. Keep a cheerful, calm countenance throughout your interactions with someone with Alzheimer's. 

Next, reinforce that you know who the individual is. Use their name in your conversations, according to their sense of reality. If they believe you’re a brother or husband, for instance, call them by their first name instead of “Mom.” Try talking about past, familiar anecdotes. Long-term memory remains in place much longer than short-term memory. For this reason, the person should be able to participate in discussions about their childhood and young adulthood, even when present-day memories have faded. 

Finally, make certain you are prioritizing time to care for yourself and work through the grief that is inherent in taking care of someone with Alzheimer's. Though the person is still alive, the memories and abilities they have lost cause grief to those who love them. Consult with a therapist for help, and take plenty of time for pastimes you enjoy.

Watching someone you love 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 any other means. The older adult is unable to retrieve these lost memories, in the same manner somebody who has lost their sight is no longer able to see. 

The very best approach is always to focus on the abilities and strengths the person does still have intact, and celebrate those each day. At Amy’s Helping Hands, our caregivers are specially trained and experienced in creative and positive dementia care techniques. We’re always available to offer additional resources and ideas to assist you and someone you love. Call us any time at 519-915-4370 to learn more about our in-home Alzheimer's care services and how we can assist you during your caregiving journey.