What do I say when mom asks where my dad is?

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It’s a question I hear often. I’ve heard it many different ways, from many different people, in many different scenarios, but it’s always the same type of question: “My ____ has passed away, and my loved one with dementia keeps asking about where they are. What do I tell my loved one?”

No one wants to feel like they are “lying” to their loved one with dementia. I encourage you, however, to take the word “lying” and to throw it right out of your vocabulary in dementia care. When we take the time to get into someone’s else’s world (embrace their reality) we aren’t lying to them. We are just meeting them where they are.

Many people with dementia will, at some point, have trouble remembering that the loved one they miss is dead. It’s not our job to remind them. In fact, it’s much nicer if that person doesn’t realize that their friend or family member has passed away, don’t you think?

In order to get in that person’s world and answer their question correctly, I usually tell people to ask this: “I don’t know, where do YOU think that ___ is?” You’ll probably get an answer like, “I think he’s at work,” or, “I think she’s out with her sister.” Agree with this answer. “Yes, I think you’re right, he must be at work,” or, “You’re right, I remember now, she’s with her sister.”

You don’t need to be creative—you just need to be a good listener. Your loved one with dementia wants an answer, they don’t want the runaround of a redirection or a distraction! You can provide them with an answer that satisfies both of you.

And, recall that “lying” is not something you need to worry about. Embrace your loved one’s reality, and you’ll both be happier for it.

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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