What do I do if she doesn’t recognize me anymore?


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So, what do you do if your loved one doesn’t recognize you anymore? I want to point out that even this sentence is not exactly accurate. What I describe in everything I’ve ever written or recorded is if you listen to my stuff, it’s something called Timeline Confusion™, which is this concept that a person living with dementia may have trouble placing you on a timeline that is linear for them. This makes a lot of sense because you know, a person living with dementia will sometimes talk about things that happened like 40 years ago, as if they’re happening, now. This is why a person living with dementia may at some point get to a point in their progression where they have trouble placing you on their timeline. It’s not that they don’t know you. It’s not that they don’t love you. It’s just that they can’t figure out why you are so old.

I hear about this a lot. People ask me all the time, “What happens if I go visit my mom and she doesn’t know who I am?” I always tell them, it’s not that she doesn’t know you. She just can’t figure out why you’re a grown adult coming into her house or her care community or wherever she lives. And she expects you to be a much younger version of yourself. And then there you are, a full-grown adult, and she can’t place you. So if you are encountering this, don’t walk into your mom’s house and go, “Hey mom, it’s Rachael. Here I am.” Instead, try calling her by her first name or whatever she normally goes by and letting her decide who you are. And you may be thinking, but that sounds emotionally painful for me. You know, I’m her daughter. I want her to know who I am.

But recognize that telling her and explaining to her that you are her daughter isn’t going to do either of you any favors and is probably going to only end up in more pain for both of you. So walking into an environment like that it’s best to try that first name, or just walk in and say hi and let it go. Now, there are going to be plenty of people who get through their entire disease process, knowing to place everybody on their timeline. They can place every single person in their life on their timeline, but not everyone can. So if this is something you’re running into on a regular basis, where you’re visiting with your loved one and they can’t quite place you, that’s when you can start using the first name or you can just say, “Hi, how’s it going today?” And see where you end up with that. But try really hard.

I know this is much easier said than done. Try really hard to not take it too hard that they can’t place you on their timeline. Not that they don’t care about you, they just can’t figure out why you look much older than they remember you looking. And this is also why grandchildren can sometimes be really confusing for people living with dementia. Because grandchildren, they’re thinking, wait a minute, who is this? Like, they look familiar. I know that I know them. I know that I love them, but what’s their relationship to me? And we never want to spend time trying to convince somebody living with dementia of what our reality or truth is. This goes back to Embracing Their Reality™, my favorite and trademarked phrase. How do you live in their world without dragging them over to what is true for us? How do you get rid of the word lying, stop worrying about it, and just embrace where they are on their timeline?

You’re going to have a way, way better day. Hope this was helpful. If you have a story about this, I love to hear stories! Please subscribe to my channel because it really helps me get more people to see my content!

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1 thought on “What do I do if she doesn’t recognize me anymore?”

  1. Pingback: What do I do if she doesn’t recognize me anymore? – Rachael Wonderlin – Dementia By Day – Richard Pearce

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of three published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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