Doesn't recognize family members

  All Alzheimer's Symptoms

When it happens

Gradually. At first (during the moderate stage), your loved one may mix up or fail to recognize familiar friends and family, especially younger members not known as long, including grandchildren. As the disease progresses through the early severe stage, even close family may go unremembered. By the mid severe stage, a spouse or adult child may not be remembered.

Why it happens

The brain's deteriorating ability to retrieve and coordinate data means that faces and voices that were once familiar just don't register any more.

What you can do

  • Above all, don't take it personally. This behavior is caused by brain changes, not a desire to "forget" you or annoy you. Not being recognized is not a reflection of the quality or longevity of your relationship. It's not caused by not being close enough, loving enough, attentive enough. Eventually even loving spouses and adult children may be "forgotten."

  • Explain to visitors and others that this sometimes happens. That helps them be prepared and understand, too.

  • Try introducing yourself when you approach: "Hi, Dad, it's your number-one daughter." "I'm back, Dad. It's Sam." It may feel silly, but it can help.

  • Identify a guest, too: "Hi, Mom. Look, your favorite niece, Melinda, is here to see you." Sometimes the person knows the visitor is familiar, if not exactly who it is. "Placing" him or her can bring welcome relief.

  • Avoid quizzing the person: "Do you know who I am?" In this case, practice won't ever make perfect.

  • Don't tease: "Oh, you know me, don't pretend you don't!"

  • Don't be surprised if you're mistaken for someone else, even someone long gone, such as a sibling or parent. If it doesn't bother you too much, there's no harm in just going along. Or you could say, "No, it's your son, Bill. You've always said I look like Dad, haven't you?"

  • Correct mistakes gently if you like, but don't make a big deal out of doing so. If being corrected upsets the person, let it go. (Know that even if you correct, this may be forgotten within a few minutes.)

  • Do allow yourself to feel sad. It can be devastating to go unrecognized by a spouse or parent, and upset feelings are perfectly legitimate.