What's In a Name - Coping with Loss of Family Recognition by Alzheimer's Sufferers

“What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

“Mom doesn’t know me anymore.” “Mom thinks I am her husband!” “Dad thinks I am his grandson”. “Mom calls me Charlotte, the name of my aunt!”

These are things I frequently hear from families wrestling with their changing world when a parent is diagnosed with Dementia. Among the many attributes of Dementia, I think the loss of familiarity and family position is the most profound.

We spend a good portion of our lives wanting our parents’ approval and making them proud of our accomplishments. We give them grandchildren in hopes that will offer many more
memories and achievements to relish. It is incomprehensible to us that we could ever be forgotten or misplaced by the one that birthed us.

Is Mom really confusing me with someone else?

If we stop to understand the different aspects of Dementia, we must first understand that it is a disease or injury of the brain. Recognition and familiarity of faces is a complex brain process involving many steps. Memories, which help with the creation of familiarity, are stored in different compartments of our brain. A lot of familiarities are rooted in long-term memory. Some are not. Emotions are stored in a different part of our brain.

Recognition is affected by our senses of smell, touch, hearing, sight, and surroundings. In a healthy brain, this is completed in milliseconds. If any of these elements are compromised, then wouldn’t one expect the path to remembrance to also be compromised?

Mom or dad is not mistaking you for your aunt or uncle. They are not envisioning someone else when they look at you. They are not longing for you to be someone else.

They can feel that you are someone familiar. They are aware that you give them feelings of pleasure. They are comforted by your presence. They can sense that you are not going to do them harm. They can sense they are safe with you. When all is said and done, these are the most important feelings to any human being.

Does it really matter what name they call us?

About the Author: Michelle L. Belton is the owner of Companion Home Care, providing non-medical senior home care in Roanoke, VA since 2004. She is a Certified Dementia Practitioner, Alzheimer's Foundation of America Certified Dementia Care Partner, and has been caring for seniors with Alzheimer's disease and dementia for over 15 years.

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424 Campbell Ave SW
Roanoke, VA 24016
(540) 981-2255