How to react when your parent thinks you are someone else?

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A few days ago my husband and I were visiting my mother at her NH - mom is almost 89 with moderate dementia and a variety of ailments all considered mild. She does have sever bone on bone arthritis in one hip for which she takes Vicodin 3x daily at six hour intervals. A few days ago my husband and I were visiting her - she and I had about a 15 minute discussion on a more complex subject and she participated intelligently. I got up and told her I was going to get her some fresh ice water - as I left the room I heard her ask my husband if I was going out to feed the horses. It hit me she thought I was her sister who lived most her life alone on a small stump farm - she always had two horses. When I got back to the room I asked "mom, do you think I am May?" She just looked at me kind of blankly for about a minute then said "you're not May". My Aunt May died 23 years ago - my mom was 14 years younger than May and at best they had a strained relationship. Part of what gets me is I couldn't be more different from May. Looks wise we are complete opposites - I'm tall, May was about 5'. Blond vs brunette, light complexion vs dark etc. The only thing physically we have in common is I walk with a mild limp and May had contracted polio as a child and walked with canes. Personality wise there are some basic similarities but still - I don't get how she could confuse me for her - besides the whole being dead 23 years thing. Has this ever happened to any of you? Was I wrong to point out I wasn't her sister?

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I found it was easier to just agree with whomever my Mom thought I was, and to agree that yes she was staying in a hotel and I had a room just down the hall [Mom was in a nursing home].
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I find that the gaps in my mom's memory are not consistent or even logical. One day she clearly understood that my sis and I were her daughters, but asked "oh, was I married?" And I definitely can see a co-relation to poorer memory on days she isn't feeling as well, it's as though her focus is on the physical and she can't make the effort to put the mental stuff in order.
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Just another thought ... Did your mother seem to think you were May the whole time she was talking to you? Did you feel the kind of strain she had with her sister? I think it is perfectly possible she knew who you were while you were talking and just when you got up and she noticed your limp she flashed back to May.

This may not mark the beginning of failing recognition -- it could very well be a temporary blip related to her medications or her pain level. On the other hand, some kinds of dementia do involve losing the ability to recognize familiar people. Only time will tell.
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Wrong? Don't we all wish there was a list of right and wrong behaviors in dealing with someone who has dementia?

My mother sometimes calls me by her sister's name. What we had in common was gray hair. (My mother, 95, still colors hers.) I think it is hard for her to grasp that she could have a daughter with gray hair.

She also refers to me by any of my sisters' names. But she started confusing our names when she had her third child. I felt lucky if I didn't called by one of my brothers' names! So it is hard to know now whether she is really confused about who I am or just has name confusion.

I start the visit with saying who I am. "Well, here's my favorite mother! And I'm your favorite oldest daughter, Jeanne!" This is a common conversation snippet: "Rita, where are you?" "It's Jeanne visiting today, Mother, and I'm pushing the wheelchair." "Oh yeah, Jeanne, I just didn't see you. I thought it was the nurse back there,"

Sometimes if it doesn't make any difference I ignore what name she uses.

In the situation you describe, I think I might get up for the water as soon as I realized she was confused, Then I'd come back, calling her Mother (or Mom, etc) and mentioning your husband by name, to help get her oriented. You might try "we were talking about Aunt May before I went to get the water. She sure took good care of her horses, didn't she?"

Who knows why something reminded her of May at that moment?
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