Responding when Someone with Dementia Wants Her Mom or Dad

Understanding Why Alzheimer's Causes Her to Call Out for a Parent

Have you ever heard someone with dementia call out, "Mother? Mother, where are you?" Or, "Dad, come here!" Sometimes, this desire for a mother or father might simply be expressed as, "I want my mom. Help me!"

Perhaps this describes your loved one, and you're not sure how best to respond. Sometimes family caregivers feel sad or even frustrated when this happens, and these reactions are normal, especially when that desired parent may have passed away many years ago.

It can be helpful to arm yourself with understanding about why this happens and have a couple of responses prepared to try to help your loved one.

Mother and Daughter
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Understanding the Confusion

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

Cognitive Impairment

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

This confusion can prevent your loved one from remembering that she's older and that her mother and father already passed away 20 years ago. She can't do the math if you were to ask her to think about her age of 90 and then to calculate how old her mother would be right now if she were still alive.

These logical thought processes are impaired by dementia, so asking her to think sequentially or to remember that her parents have already died won't be helpful. Additionally, memory loss in dementia often is such that the current memories fade first.

As dementia progresses, that fading continues to erase the years in a backwards manner so that it's the younger time in her life that is left in her memory.


Often, the person living with dementia calls out for her mom or dad because she's looking for the presence of a parent to provide security and reassurance in an unfamiliar setting.

She may be feeling worried and anxious, which would actually be a normal reaction for all of us if everything and everyone is unfamiliar, and we're not sure where we are.

Think of the young child who wanders off in the store. All of the sudden, she looks around and begins to cry because she's lost and doesn't know where her mom is. It can be helpful to remind ourselves that this lost feeling is similar to what they're experiencing.

How to Respond in a Helpful Way

What's a good way to answer when a loved one asks for her 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 her, asking questions and reassuring her. 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 she asks where her mother is, you can truthfully say, "I'm not sure. I haven't seen her lately." If Fran continues to ask for her mother, you can try these questions:

  • Was your mom a good cook? What was her best meal?
  • Was your mom employed outside the home?
  • 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 her mother or father that she misses. Those memories may be enough to calm and reassure the person.

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 the need of your loved one by reassuring her in a different way. Help her focus on something different and enjoyable.

Try this: "Mom, 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? Mom, I'm so thankful that I can spend time with you."

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

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 her mother or father and believes that they're sick or in danger, it might be helpful, if they persist in their worries, to tell them that the person has already passed away so that they aren't anxious anymore about them.

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 where it actually provided relief for the person with dementia because they could set their anxieties aside.

A Word from Verywell

It can be helpful to have a few approaches ready if your loved one who's living with dementia often asks for her mother or father. Remembering to strive to meet the underlying need for comfort, security, and familiarity, rather than just reacting to the illogical thought processes, can be helpful for both of you.

6 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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  3. Seignourel PJ, Kunik ME, Snow L, Wilson N, Stanley M. Anxiety in dementia: a critical reviewClin Psychol Rev. 2008;28(7):1071–1082. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2008.02.008

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  5. Pedersen SKA, Andersen PN, Lugo RG, Andreassen M, Sütterlin S. Effects of Music on Agitation in Dementia: A Meta-AnalysisFront Psychol. 2017;8:742. Published 2017 May 16. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00742

  6. Spector A, Davies S, Woods B, Orrell M. Reality orientation for dementia: a systematic review of the evidence of effectiveness from randomized controlled trials. Gerontologist.

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.