“Do you remember me?”

June 1, 2011

For most people living with Alzheimer’s disease, the time comes when they may have trouble remembering loved ones, may not remember them consistently or may not remember them at all.  For all those who love the person, this is one of the most horrific parts of the disease.  Deep down in all of us who have been in that position, there is a part that screams, “If you love me, how could you forget me?”

Of all our relatives with Alzheimer’s disease, only Daniel’s father did not lose recognition of loved ones, or at least, he lost his language function long before he lost is ability to recognize us.  He might not have remembered us toward the end of his life, but he could not verbalize that he did not remember us.  Somehow, that made it easier.  Preparing for this stage can soften the blow, if it ever comes.

“Do you remember me?”  As a person who has a supposedly normal memory, but has trouble remembering names, this question places me in a very uncomfortable position.  The case is no different for someone living with Alzheimer’s disease.  You begin the conversation with a test that sets up the person for failure.  Instead, change the dynamics of the situation entirely in your approach.

If you live with the person with Alzheimer’s disease, announce arriving guests and mention a connecting event which may help jog your loved one’s memory.  “Darling, here is your granddaughter, Ellen, who has come from Huntsville to see you.”  Wait for some type of reaction from your loved one, as it takes someone with Alzheimer’s more time to process information.  Once the reaction comes, whether your loved one remembers the person or not, add a reference to some happy connecting event from the relatively distant past.  “Remember when you taught her to fish?”  If you are a visitor, introduce yourself in the same way.  This may serve as an intro to conversation.

In general, do not test the memories of people with Alzheimer’s disease.  Quizzing your loved one (what is my name?, what is your name?, when is my birthday?, etc.) will only make your loved one feel inadequate.  Always phrase things to make your loved one feel capable and good about himself, even when he makes a mess, says or does something wrong, etc.  “I have that same trouble myself!” or “I am SO bad with names!”  are good responses in those situations.  Validating others is important for any human relationship, but for people living with Alzheimer’s (many of whom recognize their dwindling capabilities), it is absolutely essential.

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2 Responses to ““Do you remember me?””

  1. Courtney says:

    My granddad has dementia and I went to see him in the hospital and he didn’t remember me no matter how many hints we tried, and I don’t know how to make him remember me, is there actually a way?

    • Ellen Potts says:

      Your grandfather may be at a point where he will not remember you, especially if he does not seen your frequently. You mentioned he was in the hospital. Many elderly people, not just those with dementia, have confusion, delirium, etc. when they are ill and in an unfamiliar environment. If your grandfather normally can remember you, he may return to that baseline when his health improves. If he normally can’t remember you, then he probably won’t in the future. The key to all this is to love and accept him no matter what his cognitive ability. It is very difficult for family members to get past the loss of the person their loved one always has been. For their own mental health, family members need to grieve this tremendous loss. That being said, when you are with your grandfather, you have to go to his world. If he thinks it’s 1945 and you are his son, then be that person. He can’t come to our concept of reality any more, so we need to accommodate his.

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