Mom has Dementia and Talks to Deceased Relatives. What do I do?

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Q: My mother who has dementia talks to relatives who have died. What should I do?

A: There are wake up calls in the world of caregiving. Too often the world "normal" becomes an accepted condition and the world of "clinical red flags" get overlooked.

Your Mom is doing her best to articulate to you that it is time to bring in the experts, in the medical community around you, and make them part of your team of resources. Clinical symptoms such as these highlight the importance of getting a geriatrician involved who can see and experience the entire clinical picture. Geriatricians will defer to gero-psychiatry if they see depression or behavior that needs to be assessed and addressed.

Dementia is a progressive condition. However, in the world of disease management, it does not mean that we need to accept it without intervention. Sometimes, we have to live in the moments with our loved ones and understand their reality; sometimes, we have to understand if there is an underlying condition.

Of course, we should talk to our loved ones when they are reminiscing and sometimes not as lucid as we have come to expect. The human touch is a vital connection for an "in the moment" intervention. Although touch connection and attention might be needed in the moment, it does not replace the need for assessment and evaluation on an ongoing basis.

I am a firm believer that self esteem is vital for the caregiver and caree, no matter what. The environment, medication, or some other factor may need to be looked at when questions arise that caregivers cannot answer.

That means that we need to attend to our own minds, bodies, and souls. Self-esteem also means that our loved one needs to feel safe and competent in the environment they are in, as well.

Medicare is quite open to making sure your Mom is seen by a medical doctor to assess what is the best environment for her and if medications, whether too much or too little, play a factor.

Caregivers need not be martyrs. The medical and mental health world is waiting. Speak to her primary doctor, neurologist, psychiatrist or licensed allied health professional trained in geriatric care to assess and evaluate what is the best next move.


Dr. James Huysman co-founded the Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation and co-authored "Take Your Oxygen First. Protecting Your Health and Happiness While Caring for a Loved One with Memory Loss." Read his full biography .

Dr. Jamie Huysman, LCSW

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Dr. James Huysman, PsyD, LCSW, CAP, CFT is an authority on caregiver burnout, compassion and addictions. He blogs for Psychology Today, and is on the NASW committee aimed at establishing national standardization of caregiving. With a practice in South Florida, he runs wellness workshops for professionals and family caregivers.

Dr. Jamie

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10 Comments

Medicare will pay for home nursing visits if your parent is homebound.
Nobody told me this at the doctor's office.
Suze Orman had to be the one to tell me.

The nurses stop by twice a week.
I am no longer alone.
And, my mother's mood has improved.
Because of the extra attention she gets!
I think that people need to accept that those trying to treat the elderly have never been there before. Speaking to dead people or seeing them may be comforting to the elderly and perhaps they are able to contact those who have crossed over. Do we have to diagnose that or can we learn from it and support our loved ones and help them find peace.
My mother talked to dead relatives and friends also. The strange part of this is that they didn't show up at our house until about two weeks after that died. They were
constantly in her room. At this point - you have done everything possible to help her: changes in medication; Changes in doctors and Changes in diet. Nothing helps and in fact some of the medication make the personality disorder worse. The medication seems to be helping and then after two to four weeks it doesn't help anymore or it just makes her "mean" and in some instances violent. If you are going to continue to care for your mother at home (you didn't say how long she had been conversing with the dead) you are going to have to realize that "reasoning" with her is not an option. She sees what she sees and she hears what she hears. No amount of trying to reason with her is going to help. At this point, you have to dig way down, and get a sense of humor. If you are making up or changing the bed and you put pillows in the chair where her deceased brother is sitting and she gets upset and asks you if you cannot see him in the chair. You just apologize to him and make some comment about how well he looks. Telling her that her brother has been dead for twelve years and trying to get her to remember when he died is a useless waste of time. She sees him. In her mind and eyes he is there. Its as real to her or more so than you are. Because today she might know you and in the morning she might call you by the name of a dead friend. Certain days I would ask Mother if she'd like something to drink and she'd remark that she taught me better manners than that and I should have asked everyone else first. Then I'd say I was sorry and asked if anyone would like something to drink (If they'd answered I'd probably had a heart attack!) Then I say well we'll wait a little while and maybe everyone would be thirsty or if she'd like something I'm sure they wouldn't care. I know all this sounds silly to someone who has never lived with someone with this type of dementia; however, the main point is keeping the person "calm" and with a feeling of being loved and having self-worth. There is enough "overload" going on in their brain. After going through all the medications and/or combination of medications A found just driving her around in the car seem to get her mind focused somewhere else (for a while).. Her brain and reality became as focused and changing the tv channel. Her mood would change that fast or her reality would change that fast. If she dreamed something traumatic - that was her reality. What was actually going on in her life was not reality. What she dreamed would stay with her for days. If it was something she dreamed someone had said or done to her that was "real" and you just hoped they wouldn't show up for a while. My mother had problems sleep-walking when she was a small child and as the dementia progressed she totally lived by what she "dreamed" and what the visiting dead people had to say. - Good luck!