Should we tell my mother, who has Alzheimer's, about my father's death?

1 answer | Last updated: Nov 16, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...
My father died recently and we have not told my mother due to her alzheimers. She does not remember that my father moved to a nursing home when he had a stroke and later died. How do we tell her? She will only remember for a short time, but will certainly be distraught until she forgets. Then she will ask about him as though she had not been told - and we don't want her to grieve repeatedly. We are wondering if we should tell her at all. How do you suggest we handle this dilemma?

Expert Answers

Paula Spencer Scott, contributing editor, 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.

Yes, your mother has the right to know this information, no matter what stage of disease she's ain. How she responds and how well she remembers is hard to predict.

Don't avoid telling because you fear a strong reaction. She may cry, grieve, or respond negatively -- all honest and reasonable responses to a significant loss.

If she asks for details, tell her. If she then forgets what you've told her, however, let it go; you don't need to issue fresh reminders every day.

Give this information at her best time of day in a quiet place that is free of distractions, TV, and other people. Take her hand and don't hide your own tears. These non-verbal expressions are powerful communicators to people with cognitive and communication problems.

Realize that sharing this information benefits you, too. Even nonverbal people with dementia may stroke your hand or murmur words of comfort so you can grieve. They may even be expecting or awaiting such information and can communicate having received it, bringing everyone some peace.