Two months after my father-in-law's passing, my mother-in-law with dementia no longer recognizes my wife. What could have triggered this?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother-in-law, 88, with dementia, no longer remembers her daughter, my wife. My wife is the youngest of four children, three boys and her. Her mother claims she never had a daughter. She used to recognize her just two months ago. She still recognizes her sons. My father-in-law passed away two months ago and we were wondering if this could've triggered something. Do you have any information on this subject of her suddenly not recognizing daughter? Thank you!

Expert Answer

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's. A Met Life Foundation Journalists in Aging fellow, she writes extensively about health and caregiving; four of her family members have had dementia.

No longer being recognized is one of the most painful effects of Alzheimer's and dementia for family members. It's impossible to say exactly what caused this new development, but stress and stressful events are known to worsen dementia. Your father-in-law's death was a major stressor for your mother-in-law. She faced the loss of a life partner, the loss of companionship and probably the loss of certain routines in her life. Alzheimer's is a progressive disease and the inability to recognized loved ones, or to confuse them with others, is a common effect later in the disease process. She may recognize your wife on some days but not others. Although it's hard, your wife shouldn't take this shift personally; it's the disease process -- compounded by grief and confusion -- that's likely at work here.