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?

42 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

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