Does my mom think her husband is her father?

3 answers | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother in law has Alzheimer's/dementia. Her memory is back to when she was a young girl. She is very clingy to my father in law, always head on shoulder when they sit on sofa, asking him to hold her hand when they walk and a few times have heard her refer to him as her father rather than spouse. Wondering if it is possible she is thinking he is her father rather than husband. (She always states she is a daddy's girl)

Expert Answers

Joanne Koenig Coste is a nationally recognized expert on Alzheimer's care and an outspoken advocate for patient and family care. She is the author of Learning to Speak Alzheimer's. Also, she currently is in private practice as an Alzheimer's family therapist. Ms. Koenig Coste also serves as President of Alzheimer Consulting Associates, implementing state-of-the-art Alzheimer care throughout the United States.

Your question is a very popular one. People with Alzheimer's disease (AD) or a related disorder have great difficulty storing new information but they recall, with great clarity, days of long ago. Therfore, they relate stories from childhood years as if they just occurred and yet cannot remember whether they have eaten breakfast an hour before. Your mom-in-law sounds quite typical of most AD folk. She most likely considers herself to be a young gal living with her father. Your dad-in-law therefore takes on the persona of her dad who dwells in her long term memory - a place that is easily accessible. This is a very comfortable time in her life and I'm sure she is quite happy to be re-living those days. As time goes on and the more recent memories begin to fade, you may find she travels back even further in time to earlier days. Since you can not bring her into current time, it is best to try to be with her in her new reality. Do not correct her or attempt to reason with her. Both will fail and lead to unhappiness. Support her pleasant memories by recalling events that you or other family members may be aware of ...places she may have visited as a young woman, friends she may have had, or family gatherings that may have taken place. Encourage her to converse about these treasured long term memories. Watch old movies with her (the early MGM musicals usually work wonderfully well), play music from earlier years and sing along with her to Mitch Miller or Bing Crosby, go through old photograph albums or better yet, put one together with her and remember it doesn't matter if she can not correctly name family members - it only matters that you have positive interactive time with her as her memories of good times surface. Your dad-in-law has been in her memory-bank the longest and so he becomes her connection to the reality she now holds. It surely sounds as if she is quite content. How lovely!

Community Answers

Frena answered...

Don't approach this with the rational mind, because the answer will then be as confused as the person you;re talking about.

Instead, ask what the need is. And you already know the answer -- this daddy's girl needs her Daddy.

She doesn't live in the rational world any more. That would be the world of calender, day, date, year, her age, her adult life -- you know, the place where everyone else wants her to live.

Well, she doesn't. Because she's wounded irretrievably physically in her physical brain structure by her illness.

I detect a shadow of -- OMG, is this incest? -- underlying this question. To which I say, oh for heaven's sake, a) this woman is brain-damaged, okay?; b) she's probably about 8 years old now, all right? and c) get a grip and have compassion for her need for a loving parent figure.

She isn't living in hard cold fact. She's living in a world of emotional need, loss and fear, which support, kindness and loving parent-like care would help bring comfort into.

Witt525 answered...

No, Incest was not what we were thinking of. No underlying thoughts. We were just wondering if the connection was possible. We are so blessed with how my father in law is handling all of this and after listening to her we realized that at times that may be the connection she has and are trying to help him understand also the emotional need she requires at this time. As all well know, some days are more difficult to handle emotionally than others.