When Someone With Dementia Thinks Their Parents Are Still Alive

What may make someone call for their mom or dad and how you can respond

A person with dementia may sometimes call out for their mother or father, or ask about relatives who died a long time ago. Sometimes, a person with dementia may even say something like, "I want my mom. Help me!"

If this describes your loved one, you may not know how best to respond. Sometimes family caregivers feel sad or even frustrated when this happens. These reactions are normal, especially when that desired person may have passed away many years ago.

This article will help you understand why this happens. It will also help you to prepare some possible responses that may help your loved one in this situation.

Mother and Daughter
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Why Do Dementia Patients Ask For Their Parents?

There are several reasons why someone with dementia may call out for their mother or father. Understanding these underlying issues can help you respond with patience and compassion.

Cognitive Impairment

Disorientation to time, place, or person is one of the symptoms of dementia. Couple that with memory loss and the potential for confusion skyrockets.

This confusion can prevent people with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia from remembering that they're older and that their parents passed away a long time ago. If asked to think about their age and calculate how old their parents would be right now if they were still alive, they can't do the math.

These logical thought processes are impaired by dementia, so it won't help to ask your loved one to think sequentially or to remember the deaths.

Additionally, memory loss in dementia often is such that more current memories fade first.

As dementia progresses, that fading continues to erase the years in a backward manner so that most of the person's remaining memories are from their youth.


Often, the person living with dementia calls out for mom or dad because parents can provide security and reassurance in an unfamiliar setting.

Your loved one may feel worried and anxious, which is a normal reaction for anyone when everything and everyone is unfamiliar.

Think of a young child who wanders off in a store. When children are lost and can't find their parents, it can be disorienting. It can be helpful to remind yourself that this lost feeling is similar to what your loved one with dementia is experiencing.

How to Respond in a Helpful Way

What's a good way to answer when a loved one asks for mom or dad? What can you say to reassure and comfort the person? Try these three approaches.


Validate the person's feelings by spending time with them, asking questions, and reassuring them.

You can try something like this: "Hi Fran, are you looking for someone? I heard you asking for some help. Can I help you with something?"

If the person asks where their mom is again, you can truthfully say, "I haven't seen her lately." If the questions persist, you can try answering with a question of your own:

  • Was your mom a good cook? What was her best meal?
  • Did your mom have a job?
  • What color was her hair?
  • What did she teach you?
  • What did your mom look like?
  • What do you love about her?

Sometimes, when you use validation, the person may be comforted just by talking about their mom or dad. Those memories may be enough to provide reassurance.

At other times, validation can even help a person come to the point in the conversation where they say, "You know, I really miss my mom. She died several years ago."


Try meeting your loved one's needs by reassuring them in a different way. Help them focus on something different and enjoyable.

Try this: "Can we go for a walk together? I just really need to stretch my legs and I'm sure you do, too. Let's get some fresh air. I always feel better after breathing deeply outside, don't you? Can I get you a cookie to enjoy outside, too? I'm so thankful I can spend time with you."

Sometimes, music therapy is a powerful tool to distract and comfort. You can try turning on some favorite songs and singing along with them. The familiarity of an old song may help provide comfort.

Reality Orientation

Occasionally, a situation develops where it's just better to be more direct and honest, even when it can hurt.

For example, if your loved one is worried about their mother or father and believes they're sick or in danger, it might be helpful to tell them that the person has already passed away so that they aren't anxious anymore.

In general, this approach is not recommended because it can potentially trigger the person to begin the grieving process all over again for the loss of the parent. However, there are times when it may provide relief for the person with dementia because they can set their anxieties aside.

Still, it is a good idea to only use this kind of direct approach if the person's concerns persist, are causing distress, and other things you've tried haven't helped.


A person with dementia may call out for their mother or father, even though their parents have been dead for a long time. This happens because people with dementia lose their sense of time, place, and person.

They may not remember that the person they're asking for has died, and they may also believe they are living in a point in time when they were much younger.

In this situation, you can ask your loved one if you can help them instead. You can also try asking questions about their mom or dad, or distracting them with music or other activities.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Jahn H. Memory loss in Alzheimer's diseaseDialogues Clin Neurosci. 2013;15(4):445–454. doi:10.31887%2FDCNS.2013.15.4%2Fhjahn

  3. Kwak YT, Yang Y, Koo MS. Anxiety in dementia. Dement Neurocog Disord. 2017;16(2):33. doi:10.12779/dnd.2017.16.2.33

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Additional Reading

By Esther Heerema, MSW
Esther Heerema, MSW, shares practical tips gained from working with hundreds of people whose lives are touched by Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia.