What to Say and Do When Someone Doesn’t Recognize You

What to Say and Do When Someone Doesn’t Recognize You post page

Corrie Phillips

By Corrie PhillipsAugust 26th, 2019

What to Say and Do When Someone Doesn’t Recognize You

by Teepa Snow, MS, OTR/L, FAOTA

There are times when someone living with dementia doesn’t know me or calls me other people and curses when I tell them I am me!!

When someone thinks you aren’t who you say you are, it can be a real b*tch! It can feel like the person is losing you and you are losing them. However, it is also possible a couple of real brain farts might be happening – and they are farts - here and gone, but they stink!

One Option

  • You had asked them to do something or told them they couldn't do something.
  • You couldn't do something shortly before the episode and they didn't like it. Therefore, a primitive part of their brain told them:

    “That is not your partner. Your partner would never treat you like that or talk to you like that, therefore, it is someone else.”

Second Option

  • They either recently woke from a sleep period or had just done something special or important.
  • They just completed something hard and had not gotten their brain in gear yet
  • They used up most of their brain chemistry so that they don’t have the facial and voice recognition software working right then.

    A possible way of dealing with it rather than trying to get them to get that it is you is to respond with:

    "So you think I am ___ (the name of the person he is misidentifying you as). I do sound or look like him, I guess..."

Then:

  • Pause and see what they do with that info.
  • If the person asks you a question, first reflect a part of the question, so it slows them down and gives you a chance to figure out what the person is wanting or upset about.
    • PLwD “You’re trying to tell me you aren’t Robert?”
    • You “So you’re wanting to know if I’m Robert?”

Then consider something like:

  • "Sounds like you would rather have Robert here than me", or “Robert? I guess I could be Robert, but I'd rather be ____ (give your name)."
  • Possibly offer, in a humorous tone:

    “If I’m Robert, then are you liking me better than _______ (your name)?”

    – or -

    “If I’m ___ (the other person’s name) are you buying lunch?”
  • Take a deep breath and work on letting go of the hurt.

It's hard to do it in the moment, but it can make a huge difference when we can find the flow of their thinking rather than trying to stop it or immediately change it and then guide it a bit or just go with it.

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