How do I answer my mother when she constantly asks to see her parents who are deceased?

This is a most difficult dilemma and so common. As dementia progresses in our brains, our short term memory is blocked and eventually our long term memories as well. Your Mom is not able to recognize a time frame or the fact her parents and possibly other friends and family who have passed away are no longer with us and able to visit. Seeing her ask for people she cares so deeply for can be  heartbreaking. First, try to distract her with another activity or a story or music. Is she able to take a walk or look at photos? This might work, if only temporarily. You will not be able to get her to understand her parents are deceased. And if by some chance you do, she will not remember and you will begin the process all over again of reminding her. You don’t want to lie to her, but sometimes, especially if she is already having a rough day (or you are), you may need to just play along and tell her you don’t know when she can see them or she will see them soon. Other times, you might want to tackle to difficult task of explaining to her the truth. Ultimately, it is up to you and there isn’t a right or wrong answer. If she gets upset it might be best to use the distraction mode or play along. Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic answer.

I am sure others have dealt with this painful situation, any suggestions for Kris?

57 thoughts on “How do I answer my mom when she asks to see her deceased parents?

  • Connie Stoll

    My mom will occasionally ask about my dad who has been gone 11-1/2 years. I just say he is probably home and she is satisfied. Trying to get them to understand when they just can’t grasp it is hard on us but try to agree and not argue or teach.

    • Amy Elizabeth Crates

      My dad was so sweet. He would not get angry. For the last few months he kept walking around and around the care unit -which also had an outdoors. He would open every cabinet and door. One day I asked if he was unhappy there because he would not stop and I was afraid that he wanted to leave and he said “I’m looking for mom and dad. When will they be here. ” I told him they would be here soon and then asked him questions about his parents. He basically withered away because he was looking and wouldn’t sit down for dinner. He died within 4 days when he was too frail to walk. But I am sure that he found his mom and dad when he passes.

  • Jennifer Murray

    We deal with this all the time on the memory care unit where I work. The only thing that works is to explain to them that they are spending the night with us. Maybe there was a bad storm, and we have to wait till tomorrow (by tomorrow morning they have forgotten about it). We have phoned their family and everyone is aware of where they are. Their family will come pick them up in the morning. Repeat as often as necessary. Explaining that their parents are deceased sometimes works. But, not usually. Not sure if that helps. I watched my Aunt go through this and it shocked me that she begged to “go home” even while she was still living in the same home she had lived in for sixty years. She wanted to go back to her childhood home. We distracted her with photo albulms she had put together years before. Telling her that she was already home did not help at all.

    • Perry

      My Mom want to go home all the time and I keep saying to her that you are living in your home , but she keeps saying bring your car and let us go home

  • Pat

    My mom had a special relationship with her brother in law, Bob. My father was a POW for 19 months in WWII. If there was any news he was sent across the street with the news. When they got married and moved a town away he would visit. My Uncle was deceased. My mom came to live with me having Alzheimer’s. She wanted to know why he didn’t visit. Would get mad that I would not go get him. Told me I was lazy. Would walk away, make her tea and try to settle her with a tv program. Most times she would fall asleep. Not an easy situation. Siblings can never understand the tension you lived under.

  • Bradley Granlun

    Mother had this problem. I always tried to change the subject. One time she Was adamant about this. I was tired and did not know what else to do, so I took mother to the cemetery. Huge mistake, she said that she didn’t remember attending the funeral. She was extremely upset at this point. I managed to calm her down and took her home. When we pulled into the driveway of the house she had lived in for years, she asked if this was my house.
    In the 5 minutes it took to get home all was completely forgotten.
    Mother passed 6 2015. It’s taking me a long time to put all this in perspective. I don’t believe I will ever be able to put that part of my life behind me. Lying to my mother, physically restraining her when she was convinced that she had responsibility elsewhere.
    Definitely not something you want to attempt Alone. siblings able to help must be convinced they must help for the primary caregivers Co own health both mentally and physically.
    Sorry I got a little carried away.

    • Cathy

      You did not get carried away. I am dealing with this myself with my Mom and I considered taking her to the cemetery also. Glad to hear your input. I actually put a book together with all of her family’s obituaries because she accused me of lying to her and killing her brothers. This was on a very bad day, which I pray I never have to go through again. She was adamant about going home to her family house to see her parents and brothers, who are all deceased. I was very unsuccessful in distracting her on this awful day, but somehow she calmed down. This is the most difficult thing I have encountered in my life. Fortunately, I have supportive siblings but they live some distance away and do not experience the daily trials except when my husband and I take vacations. Now, I guess I’ve gotten carried away. I appreciate hearing stories and advice from those with similar experiences. I often feel alone in these struggles, although I certainly love my Mom very much.

      • Bob

        My wife has had dementia for two years. She insist that we visit her parents who have been decided for several years.
        I try to change the subject but it only works for a short period of time. she thinks that the house we have owned for years is a rental.
        Some days it is so frustrating.

      • Judy

        You’ve helped me. My mom asks me all the time where my dad is or her mother. I don’t know how to handle it. I’ve tried telling her the truth but she asks again in a few minutes. I was going to take her to the cemetery but now I won’t. Thank You.

        • Leony

          My mom was diagnosed with Dementia 3 years ago. I work with Alzheimer’s patients but I found myself in denial for a while. I speak to my mom everyday at 5pm, so it is a routine. Today was so sad and it took everything I had not to burst into tears while speaking to her. My beautiful mom was crying like a baby because she could not find her mom and dad who are deceased since my mom was 25 years old. I always seem to calm her down. I told her she would see them soon. I do the therapeutic “fibbing” because, why hurt her with the truth. Heartbreaking for all who are going through this awful disease. LT

          • Jeanine

            Do you know if Drs have medication to help with this, like a calming med. My MIL is on 1/2 prozac and olanzapine for hallucinations. She transitions this weekend to our home, her son’s, so we can sell her house. She’ll have an experienced caregiver here during the day. We’ve been caring for her on weekends for 4 years, but BIL is needing relief plus running out of money. So this is the new plan.

    • Sarah

      Easier said than done with siblings! I’m sorry you went through this. I’m dealing with it now and appreciate your post. Thank you.

    • Mayeli

      Hi, I’m going through this with my mom and its very difficult. Sorry for your loss and thank you for the tip ?

    • Sylvia

      Don’t worry about getting carried away, your advice has helped me. I am going through exactly what you went through. It helps to know you are out there. Thanks.

    • Sylvia

      I am going through exactly what you went through. It helps to know you are out there. Thanks for your comments.

    • Kidy

      You’ve helped me. My mom asks me all the time where my dad is or her mother. I don’t know how to handle it. I’ve tried telling her the truth but she asks again in a few minutes. I was going to take her to the cemetery but now I won’t. Thank You.

  • Lina

    My father would ask where his mother was. We would tell him that she was out for a while but would be back later. That satisfied him and didn’t upset him. Of course he would ask again later but that seemed to work.

    • Jb

      My mother was diagnosed with CNS lymphoma (central nervous system) in Oct. 21. Went through whole brain and targeted radiation for 2 tumors. Was seeming to get back on her feet, able to take care of herself, home and finances nut in July developed a UTI and was very confused. I started to work with home health to get skilled nursing but she fell and ended up in the hospital with 2 broken vertebrae. She developed shingles while Hospitalized. She was transferred to a sort term rehab. She’s been there 15 days now and the shingles have returned. Her confusion continues and no one can tell me if this will subside or is permanent. I want to either care for her in my home or get 24 hour care in her home. My brother I’d adamant on sending her to long term care. I promised her that would never happen. I am her med pia but he will refuse to pay for home care. He is her fin. Poa. I am so torn as to what to do! Just days ago she started asking for her dad as well. I told her I hadn’t seem he but I’ll tell him she asked about him. I cried ! Just looking for some insight.

  • mark

    mom recently passed she would ask if i had seen Dad today?. i would smile at her and say “ya know mom i haven t seen him today but if i do i ll be sure to tell you.” she would smile and i would change the subject. I never lied to her i d just try to divert the conversation to another topic.She s with him now.

  • Denise Cardinal

    I dealt with this daily. My dad had Alzheimer’s. He lived with us for 2 years before he passed. I used all the above suggested methods. They all work, sometimes for a just a short time, other times it was an all day conversation! The hardest thing for me was when he thought I was my mom. I had to gently set him straight. I still miss him

  • Wayne

    Put her off. say you’re not sure where they are right now. change the subject. distract with food, music, adventure, trip outside, whatever it takes. If her memory is that bad, she will forget and you can do the same things next time.

  • Mom would also ask where my father was and I would always say he is with his friend John at breakfast or he was volunteering as he did many times and she would be fine with that.Diane

    When my mom did that, I would just calmly say, they went shopping or they are out with friends. Mom would also ask where my father was and I would always say he is with his friend John at breakfast or he was volunteering as he did many times and she would be fine with that.

  • Susan

    Another idea: “Your mom is not here right now but What a good thought. Lets sit and talk about her. What was her favorite….?” Get a photo, share a memory. Behind her question is a desire for her mom, not so much to be told she’s dead. What is “dead” to a dementia mind? Don’t make her more confused.

  • Nicole Colburne

    Having worked with patients who suffer from various forms of dementia for more than a decade I can say that if they are asking to see deceased relatives – I will 100% tell a white lie to make their day better.
    The number of times we told my grandmother that her husband was deceased never got easier – it broke her heart every single time like it was the first time she heard it.
    I finally decided: no more. “He’s a work for the day, you’ll see him around supper time”. And that was that.
    She was happy for the time being, I didn’t cause her any unnecessary stress, and she did not remember that I told her a white lie.
    Since then I’ve taken on the role of educator for caregivers on how to work alongside those with dementia.
    “Join the ride” with your friends/family who are suffering this horrible disease. There is no point adding stress to their day and yours if they are not going to remember a white lie.
    Unless the untruth will cause them harm – go along with them and let them live in their reality.
    If they are refusing to have breakfast because they think they’re 20 and have to feed the chickens before they eat: tell them you’ve fed the chickens for them so that you could both have some time together.
    It’s better than arguing and trying to tell them that what they “know” to be real is not.

    • Tracey

      Your perspective is so loving. Thank you.

    • LeeAnne Turner

      Totally agree with you .by telling them that their parents are dead puts them through that grief over and over again ..

    • Isabelle Moraitis

      Thank you so much, it’s terrible ., she understand that is gone but she keeps saying he is here and gone

    • Mary Daniels

      Thank you for confirming what I’ve been trying to do. My mom is 100 now, and constantly asks about family members that have died. My responses are “haven’t heard about anyone today, so they must be fine”, and then I change the subject. I had just asked my husband, if he thought I should tell her the truth; however, based your reply I’m going to keep up my “everyone must be fine”. After all, they are in heaven!

  • Conni

    Mom asked many heartbreaking times…why doesn’t Mom come see me, where is Daddy. Such tough questions to answer-she didn’t get along with Grandma( why did she want to see her now?)and they had both been gone for years. But, depending on how she was that day, this how I answered her. Sad days, they just had to far to drive, many states to travel. Bad days-you’ll see them soon. Better days, I told the truth. It was all about keeping her from being more confused. You just love them whatever state they are in….miss her so

  • Sue Dvorscak

    When my Mom asked where my Dad was, I couldn’t lie because I’d feel guilty so I just said he’s not here. Then she’d ask again where is he? I’d say I don’t know but he’s not here. I wasn’t lying to Mom and most of the time that seemed to be good enough for her. Good luck!! Hang in there!! You’re doing a great job!!

  • Jay

    Redirect question,ask her about her favorite story

  • Sue

    My mom always wanted to visit her mother (who was deceased). I told her that we will definitely do it tomorrow and that I understood that of course she wanted to see her. By the next day, she never would remember the conversation.
    She would be so relieved and happy that I understood her feelings and relieved that she would see her “tomorrow.” I hated lying, but realized that it made her happy and content. I hate that it took me WAY too long to realize that! Do NOT waste time explaining that her mom is dead. . . we tell our children there is a Santa Claus- we can and should make our loved ones with Alzheimers happy with little white lies.

  • Leticia

    It’s reały tough doing either; at first I thought I would be rational and explain age and numbers of why her mom wasn’t around. Later I realized it was senseless because it would upset her. Now I just go along with whatever she says, if she wants to visit someone that passed away, I would say okay we will go tomorrow. If she wants to cook for all the family that’s coming to visit her, I tell her I cooked already and we wait for the company that never shows up. It is easier and my mom doesn’t get upset. One thing that’s difficult is when she forgets I’m there and she thinks she’s alone. I just constantly tell her I’m right here mom.

    • Jane

      I experiencec this also with my mother. We keep a journal and every time my sister or I or the grandkids visit we end the visit by saying “what would you like to write in your journal about today?” Then, especially when she is feeling alone, we read the journal and she enjoys remembering, for a moment, that she has been visited and loved.

  • Marsha

    My Mom would cry and ask when were her parents coming to get her, that her parents told her they are coming to get her. The care takers would tell her that her parents were dead and she would start crying. I told my mom that yes, her parents were coming to get her, but it wasn’t the right time and that they would come and get her at the right time. She said ok and stopped crying. I instructed the caretakers to tell her that, but do not say her parents are dead as that just upset her and caused her to cry. This was when she was in late stage Alzheimer’s and trying to bring her to the “present” upset her terribly, and she was past the ability to see the present time. Her mind had progressed too far back at this stage of the disease.

  • Iro

    Fortunately my mother didn’t get into this subject very often, but one night in bed she wouldn’t stop yelling for her mom to come to her. I had to play the role of her mom all night holding her in my arms and attempting to calm her anxiety. Playing the role of my mom’s mom was the most traumatizing experience in my life. I will never forget it as long as I live. Mom passed away 5 years ago and it’s still vivid in my mind.

  • Jo

    This disease is horrible! My mom is constantly looking for her mom or her baby. We’ve tried a doll but she knows it’s a doll. She won’t go eat or she won’t leave because the baby is sleeping. It’s so terrible. She thinks she lost her baby all the time and just panics. Or she has to find her mom because she has to red her. Mercy!!
    I have never lied so much in my life…..guilt isn’t as bad as it was because I guess lying is better than her panic. I hate everything about this!

  • Bev

    I found telling mom that my dad was work did the trick. Dad was a blue collar guy. He worked many hours overtime in his younger days. My mom can relate to that answer and it saves an abundance of tears. You learn lying to a loved one with Alzheimer’s is not a bad thing. It spares them pain and sadness and confusion.

  • Heidi

    My mom had no clue that my dad had been battling cancer for years prior to his passing. For the final 6 weeks of his life, they were both on separate floors of the same hospital and she had no idea that she wasn’t living at home. They visited each other a couple times – but she actually found it very distressing because she didn’t understand that he was sick. In the end we felt it was much kinder to let my mom think that he was in the basement or out shopping. When my dad passed away we (my sister and I) chose not to tell my mom at all. Obviously this meant she didn’t attend the funeral or visitations. We felt that it would have been very mean to have her suddenly realize my dad was gone -deal with the shock and dismay – recover from the shock only to go through the same thing ten minutes later. We never regretted our decision. She asked for him for a year or so after, but was always fine when we said he was in the basement or that we hadn’t seem him today yet either, but would let her know when we did etc. She is now at a point where she only gives us one word answers if we are lucky.

  • Diane Broberg

    My mom frequently wants to see her brother and sister-in-law who passed away a long time ago. The first time she wanted to call him I said he has passed away 10 years ago without thinking and she went through the grieving process all over again. Rather than bring that trauma again I now just say one of these days we will have to get ahold of them and then redirect her to thinking of something else.

  • Shannon cummings

    I am currently taking care of a lady who is 92 yrs old dementia with sundowners..I’ve been taking care of her almost a year I’ve done all the research possible but the only thing that weighs heavy on me is since day 1 she has said her mom is lost and or missing she doesn’t know if she’s dead or alive been kidnapped and says noone has bothered to look for her. What do I say to that she says it everyday sometimes 2 to 3 times daily she often sobs for her..breaks my heart so what do I do

  • Erla

    My mom has dementia but still recognises me and can have basic conversations, although I think it is just going through the motions and saying the things and social niceties that are ingrained in her. Lately she has been asking where my dad is (he died in 2005) and when I say he is at home, she wants to know what he is doing because she never hears from him any more. What am I supposed to say?
    When she asked about her sisters on other occasions (both are dead), I told her that they died in such and such a year and that their daughters send their love, etc. She never really said anything to that but I could tell that she was digesting this information.
    She is in a home and has also begun to ask say that she knows she is in a retirement home (the first time she does this) but would like to know when she can go home.
    I don’t know what to say or do.

  • Diana Wildrick

    My brother told me the other day he and my sister were visiting our mom who is in a memory care facility and mom looked at my brother and asked him when his funeral services were and he was right in front of her. Not sure what that means or how close she is to the end of her dementia. I do know that she was diagnosed last May and progressed rapidly from 3 to 5 in about 4 month time span.

  • Myron

    My wife and I have been married 68 years(May2). and she does not
    remember being married. In fact, in our home, when i sat in the living room and my wife went to the bathroom –I went to prepare dinner –my wife came back saw the empty chair and asked me where (my name) was. I said i did not know.Now she wants to visit her parents and younger sister (all deceased) and
    every evening I try to convince her that her parents are deceased but she says I am lying, so I try to change that subject. I probably would take her to our other house but that is about 1,000 miles away and I would have to
    arrange for a caregiver at that location. I have a caregiver here in FL which I have to bath and dress her.
    The thought of traveling on an airline is scary because she is difficult to understand and has a swallowing problem making it hard for her to eat since she had cancer of the throat and has no upper lip or pallet. I don’t know how she would react to crowds
    and I know she would not keep a mask on for more than a few minutes. She also uses a walker and has fallen down a few times. She is 92 yrs old and has said she will graduate in June.

    I don’t know what to do when she continually asks to see her parents and sister. I don’t like lying to her.

  • Frank Castillo

    My mom lives with my brother in San louis obispos (I’m in Sacramento).

    I talk to her on the phone for the most part we have normal conversations. I recall my childhood with funny stories, tell her the things I didn’t understand when I was a kid but that now I see her and my dads wisdom. Then out of nowhere she’ll say that the last time she saw my dad he’s gotten really old and she’s waiting for him to come pick her up from my brother’s house. This happened today. My dad passed away in 2017. Thank you all for your input. So far I just go with her story and bring up a funny memory with my dad. She also a couple months ago said she had to go check on my grandmother forgetting she passed in 2014.

    I wish life wasn’t so mean. Her and my dad were married for half a century. I can’t tell her he’s gone, it would be heartbreaking. One day they will dance just like in their wedding picture in a happy eternity with all their beautiful memories in a paradise where this awful disease can not follow.

    In the meantime I will cherish every single moment I have with herin this temporal world.

    God bless all of you

  • Belinda

    My 95 year old father lives with me. I wish he would ask me where his mom is but instead he looks at me with horror on his face and crying, says “IS MY MOTHER DEAD???” If he would just ask where she is I would use some of these suggestions I’ve read here, but he really wants to know if she’s dead. I usually say yes, but then follow it up with “but our mothers never really leave us. They’re around us all the time. That’s what mothers do, and we can talk to them whenever we want.” But he asks me this frequently and he’s so brokenhearted to hear the answer that I hate to keep putting him, (and me) through it. Suppose I say no, she’s not dead. I can just hear him say Oh REALLY? Then he’ll be wondering why she hasn’t called or visited, which is also hurtful, and he has said several times that she would usually call or write. He’s always looked to me to be the one to be honest with him so it goes against every impulse I have to lie to him, partly because some days he seems to understand and other days not. I don’t know what’s the right thing to do……

  • SA

    I got some extra issue. My mother, 81, in addition to wanting to see her deceased mother, husband, father, want to see her kids who are supposed to be in school and not yet returned.
    she ignores my wife and children and thinks them as outsiders who are living with us on humanitarian grounds but may occupy the house.
    she also do not like to see ladies/girls, she is happy when boys/males are around.
    i am totally lost and confused as i cannot stay at home all the time, she is really hard to handle when i am away. she calms down when i am back from job; sometimes she accept me as her son, sometimes i am her maternal uncle and sometimes i am her cousin.
    Best solution, i figured out, is just keep lying to her and keep agreeing whatever she is saying….. but not possible in all scenarios.
    I am starting to get irritated now even though my wife and children cooperate very much. May God help me in managing the situation.

  • Denise

    I am just starting to deal with this with my mom. My parents live in California, and I live in Ohio. I am an only child. My mother called me and was asking where her mother’s sweeper was, because she (her mother) would put money in there. I told my mother that grandma had died 31 years ago, and she said “well, I am glad someone told me”, she seemed upset. I told her she was mixed up and confused, because sometimes she is perfectly fine. She does repeat the same things over and over, been doing that for a while, but now or more recently, she has been asking about people who have been gone for years now. I feel she needs to be diagnosed by a doctor, but she said they did that at her last doctor visit, supposedly in July, and she passed with flying colors. I don’t know what to do at this point. I want to contact her family doctor somehow, but they do not know who I am, and discuss this with her. I want to move my parents home within the next year, but I have read that moving people with Alzheimer’s or Dementia, could make it worse much faster. If anyone has any suggestions, I would appreciate it.

  • Diane

    I just recently moved my mom over to memory care at the facility where she was staying. She has started calling me asking for my brother & my dad’s phone numbers so she can call them (they have both passed away). While she does not remember that they have passed, she is remembering that she is calling me asking for their phone number. I’ve tried telling her they are out of town & may not be able to talk but she is still insisting that I give her their phone numbers. I’m not sure what to do now.

    • Kristi

      Yes, this is very challenging. Thats wonderful news that your mom is able to call you. I wonder if you simply told her that they are not available but you guys could go through pictures together of them. It seems that she really misses them. Perhaps viewing photos and old memories will help her feel more attached. This is what I do with my mother with AD. She is no longer able to call me which is a huge loss and is unable to pick up the phone so I can not call her as I could a year ago.

  • Diane Phalen

    I recently moved my mom into memory care at the facility where she was staying. She has just recently been calling me looking for my brother and my dad’s contact number (they have both passed way at least 5 years ago). I have been telling her I don’t have right now but could look up. This was working but while she doesn’t remember that they have both passed away, she is remembering she is waiting on me to give her their phone number. Any suggestions on how to answer this?

    Thank you,
    Diane Phalen

    • Linda

      Well, I’ve read everyone’s comments here & I appreciate all the input,questions and answers.
      I’m new at this as being caregiver for my mother for many yrs now, she ultimately has had to be placed in a memory care facility also.
      I’ve struggled with the pain of returning home from being with her, only to find myself alone. Out of sorts. Not knowing where I belong anymore is absolutely horrible.
      She has said before and since she moved that she wants to go home..I’ve asked her where, back to NJ where she lived 60+ yrs ago & she replies NO, so I the city we grew up in here in ia? Again..NO. so I just tell her she is home. And most of the time that works. Not always, she DOESN’T know so there is no answer for me. I’m learning every day something new about this HORRID disease that has taken over my beautiful mom. I simply HATE everything about this, yet I won’t dare question God’s plan. He’s the decision maker for us all & he’s perfect so who am I to think that I need answers to the why she’s living this? I will hopefully find out someday idk? For now, I just have to try and get through another day. I love my mom to death & days I certainly wish I could just go 1st & not watch her slowly die in plain site. Pretty selfish huh?
      When she has been the most selfless person I have ever known.
      I cry, I vent, I make mistakes like EVERYONE else. It is INDEED the hardest thing so far in my life I’m dealing with now.
      Sorry. I’m really pouring it out but thank you all for your time , your lives & your answers + my sympathies to you all who have lost your loved one & who are still caring for them. I’m 100% feeling the pain.
      Such a journey, I’m writing mine as I hope it will help the future generations who may go through this too.
      ??? thanks again.

    • Kristi

      Yes! Tell her they aren’t currently available for phone calls due to work, travel, etc. Go through pictures of them with her. She misses them. Looking at old photos brings memories and joy of those she misses.

  • Julie

    I am caring for my 85 year old mother who constantly want to go home and I try to distract her I tried many techniques nothing work and she is persistent and insistent and she grabs her coat and want to leave. It is very upsetting and stressful. She is physically very strong and fit and I am struggling with the idea to put her in a home or keep caring for her.
    She lives with me and I have no partner, have brothers who support but I am on 24/7. Any advice on how to deal with the guilt of putting her in a home? How do others cope?

  • Niki

    Struggling as Mum is looking for her dead Uncle. Have tried to tell her he is deceased. She is now trying to ring dead relatives to find him. I have no relatives near me and Struggling to get to see the GP. Mum has not been assessed because she is adamant there is no problem and is aware of who she is, her DOB and where she lives. I am at my wits end and don’t know where to turn to. Any suggestions

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