Should we tell my mom with Alzheimer's that my dad has passed away?

Asked by

Dad had a stroke on 1/3/12 and passed away in the nursing home on 2/22/12. My mom was placed in an alzheimer's assisted-living facility a few weeks before dad died. I took her to see him in the nursing home often and they were very close (holding hands, kissing each other good bye). We were advised not to tell her when dad died. She doesn't ask about him often but will speak of him while reminiscing. On what would have been their 59th wedding anniversary, she called the house and wanted him to come pick her up. Lately, she has woken up in the middle of the night and is asking to speak to her husband. The staff at the nursing home has calmed her down and she goes back to sleep. I told them to let her call the house if she wants to no matter what time of the day or night. I live there now alone. Now that things have settled down and if she starts asking to speak to my dad, should I tell her that he has passed away?

Answers 1 to 9 of 9
You can tell her, but it doesn't mean that she'll remember the truth about it. Just try to not say: " Remember, Mom - - I told you, he's gone " . Each time she asks is like the first time, so let your voice and your attitude be likewise. Make it a simple story about his death - assure her that you'll be there for her. It may take a while, but she'll quit asking about him one of these days.
Top Answer
Debman: My heart goes out to you. I don't know what the best answer is. You could tell her that he has passed away and I agree that she will probably ask again. Sometimes my dad will ask about my mom who passed away in 2008. My dad has had a couple of strokes so he does have some vascular dementia. Usually for him, the questions come when he wakes up from a nap and has been somewhere else in his mind. I do remind him that mom has passed on and after a while he remembers. I always tell him that mom is in heaven; happy and healthy and waiting for him to join her. I tell him that they will get to be young together again and all their old dogs will be with them. That makes him smile.

One time I tried not to tell him that mom had passed. I said, "Oh mom will be back in a minute or two." That really upset him and he wanted to know if she was sick. So I had to go back to the truth and he could connect with that and accept it. The truth gave him more peace.

I think you will have to find a response that doesn't upset your mom. Start with the truth and then some reassurance that he is waiting for her. If that is not helpful you will need to find what is. Some people can tell their parent that the spouse is at the grocery store and it works, but you mom seems to have a better sense of significant dates. It could be that her dementia is taking her back to a time in their marriage so that is on her mind.

I don't think there is a perfect answer to this question. I hope my thoughts have been helpful and at least give you some things to consider.

Hugs to you and best wishes in your journey. Cattails.
Deb, We went through this with my grandfather 20 years ago. Back then, there was little out there to help people understand alz./dementia. He would ask for his wife/mother/Meme, whatever he word he could remember that associated with her. We would explain to him that she had died. He would be devastated all over again every time we told him this.
Now my Mom is suffering from dementia do to Parkinsons. Over the past 5 years of caring for her, I have learned many things and remember very well the devastation my grandfather went through every time we answered his question.
The people who are caring for your mom are doing the right thing. Do not tell her that her husband is gone! The best thing to do is change the subject. Redirect her attention to something else. Change her focus and move on. Although my dad has been dead for 30 years, passed when he was young,54, Mom will still occasionally ask where he is or when is he coming home. I just say soon, or he's at work, then I change the subject and she moves on. Because they are so fragile mentally, it is best to shelter them from subjects that will be upsetting.
I sure hope this helps you out. Having been through this before, I can assure you that you don't want to put your Mom through that loss or yourself through the pain of telling her.
This is such a difficult one to handle. My MIL started thinking her husband was alive, although he passed away 10 years before. She would say he called her and was coming to pick her up. We tried to redirect the conversation, but she would keep coming back to it. So, I would say "remember he is in Heaven and saving a seat for you?" She seemed to identify with this as she was continually saying "I hope Charlie has saved a seat for me". Truly heartbreaking for them to be going through. She would also think she had to go take care of her mother. For us, anyway, and as Cattails had said, saying they were in Heaven gave her some piece for the moment, anyway. But, it was the answer that worked for us and for her. Blessings to you and take care.
I'm so sorry for your loss. It's very difficult to have one parent die and the other be unavailable because of this horrible disease. I hope you have other family close by. I do believe there are some gifts that come with the disease, and the inability to remember painful things is one of them. I think the kindest thing for her is to not tell her. Just say "He'll come a little later" or "He's on his way". They will forget that too.

What is your motivation for telling her? Its it in her best interest or because you want comfort from her?

Remember how this disease works.
1. They have no short term memory.
2. They pick up emotion from the people around them and mirror it back.
3. They live in the minute
4. They have little ability to handle and process complicated emotions since that requires memory and rational thought.

What would be the purpose of telling her he is dead? Is it for her or for you? Why would you want her to go through the same fresh shock, loss, sorrow, pain, grief over and over every single time you repeat that he has died? That sounds cruelty.

My mother's brother died. At first I thought "she should know" then I started thinking about WHY should she know? I finally decided it would be unbelievably cruel to tell her over and over her brother died to force her to process it, and if she wasn't going to process it to resolve it, then why tell her at all? As mentally functioning adults we cannot forget that someone has died and is no longer there for us. We HAVE to learn to process the pain and grief in order to get on with our lives. They have lost that ability, and their lives are now the minute they live in and the past (hopefully happy) memories. I wonder if part of Alzheimers is the brain's desire to cope with/forget past pain.

Find others who knew your father to process your own grief, but I think the person with the dementia should be protected from something they no longer have the capability of coping with.

My deepest sympathy, and I sincerely hope there are others near for you.
I'm so very sorry for what you're going through...it's not always easy to know what to do. When my sister died, I was determined that my Mom shouldn't be told...what good would it do her to know? Would it help her in any way? Would it hurt her? The answer was clearly that it would hurt her. You can imagine the pain of finding out that your child died, and even if that knowledge is fleeting, the pain is there for that moment. Some of my family members felt I was doing the wrong thing and they thought it was unfair for me to keep my sister's death from my Mom...I completely understand...but the overriding thought for me was how much my Mom would be hurt. And now I know I did the right thing...6 months later my beautiful Mother went to Heaven and joined my sister...without ever having the pain of knowing she had died until she was greeted in Heaven by my sister!
Best of luck to you...take care of yourself...
Brownie Points for RockHardPlace!!! IMHO, your post was very much on point.
im dealing with the same thing my mum lost her sister this June went to the funeral she now has lost her Husband and went to his funeral the only thin we tell her is that they are in heaven waiting for her she cried a few tears for both she is in a permanent home now but she thought it was her boyfriend who had died not husband we just said he was sick and gone to heaven so far she seems ok but some times nasty good days bad days swears were she never swore before only thing i dont like is when she lasseas out at the staff.
I am also sorry for your loss. I just went through this with my wife who is in Memory care with Alzheimer's. Her mother was in the same facility but in Assisted living for the past 5 years. My wife is an only child and we moved her Mom out here from the DC area where she lived within a 10 mile radius her 92 years. On the day she died at age 96 I went to tell my wife. I just said that, "your Mom is moving back to DC to be with your Dad". Her response was "Oh" like "please pass the salt". She has not asked about her since her death. I felt like I had to say something but I did not use the words death or died. I had brought my wife in to see her Mom a few times as her Mother was failing in health but my wife has not clue what was happening-at least that is what I believe but who knows. I did struggle with the decision as to what I should do. My wife does not have to grieve and I will grieve for both of us.

Share your answer

Please enter your Answer

Ask a Question

Reach thousands of elder care experts and family caregivers
Get answers in 10 minutes or less
Receive personalized caregiving advice and support