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At What Stage Do Dementia Patients Forget Family Members?

November 2, 2023

It is unfortunately common for people experiencing Alzheimer’s or dementia to, at some point, not recognize their own family members. While specialized support such as memory care can help meet the needs and reduce the symptoms of individuals with memory loss, it is often a difficult time for both those experiencing memory deterioration and the loved ones supporting their care.

 In this blog, we’ll discuss memory loss in dementia patients as it pertains to forgetting family members, including which stage it is most likely to occur in, and offer options for support during these tough times.

Can People With Alzheimer’s Forget Their Family?

Yes, people with Alzheimer’s disease can reach a point of cognitive decline where they start to forget their family members. Alzheimer’s is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects people’s memory and cognitive function. Especially toward the last stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia before death, it is common for patients to struggle with remembering those close to them.

Why Do People With Dementia Forget Their Loved Ones?

Dementia causes progressive damage to the brains of those affected by the underlying disease. There are a few reasons that help scientifically explain what can lead to this memory loss:

  • Neurodegeneration. Dementia is characterized by the gradual degeneration and/or death of brain cells, including those responsible for storing and retrieving information, also known as the ones involved in memory. 
  • Shrinking hippocampus. Of the many pieces of the brain that we rely on day to day, the hippocampus is the one critical for forming and storing new memories. It is also one of the first areas affected by Alzheimer’s, and its deterioration leads to an increased struggle in remembering recent events or recognizing even the most familiar of faces. 
  • Disrupted neural pathways. Neural pathways are essentially our brain’s communication tracks. Dementia also leads to the deterioration of these pathways, making it more difficult to retrieve memories even if the information is already stored somewhere in the brain.

What Stage of Alzheimer’s Is Forgetting Family Members?

Typically, forgetting family members is a symptom of dementia and Alzheimer’s seen in the later stages of its progression. For Alzheimer’s disease, there are generally considered to be three stages: 

  1. Mild or early-stage. Patients begin to experience mild memory problems but usually can still recognize those closest to them.
  2. Moderate or middle-stage. Memory loss becomes more pronounced and individuals may start to struggle with names and faces of family members, although they still can usually recognize them.
  3. Severe or late-stage. Late-stage Alzheimer’s is the most common stage where patients begin to forget their family members. This point in the disease is characterized by considerable cognitive and functional decline, and usually, patients will require full-time care.

Do Dementia Patients Always Forget Their Family Members?

Each dementia patient will experience the neurodegenerative disease differently. Not everyone will forget their family members, and some will do so earlier than others. Additionally, not all forms of dementia affect memory in the same way or at the same rate. Caregivers, healthcare professionals, family members, and caregiver companions can work together to support individuals with dementia in staying mentally stimulated and keeping up connections with their loved ones as their memory issues progress.

Why Do Dementia Patients Forget Family Members?

Dementia patients can begin to forget their family members for several reasons, including but not limited to shrinking brain regions, memory retrieval issues, disrupted neural pathways, and general neurodegeneration and cognitive decline. It is most common for this to happen in the later stages of dementia.

It is important to note that while memory loss and forgetting family members are unfortunately common occurrences that come along with dementia, the emotional connections formed by those experiencing it persist even as they struggle to remember specific names, faces, or memories together. Family members and the bonds they share with their loved ones will always play an invaluable role in the lives of these memory-afflicted individuals.

How Story Cottage Can Help

Learn how Story Cottage homes are unique, first-of-its-kind residences for individuals navigating memory loss. Paired with personalized care, social support, and an emphasis on engagement, our residents are able to lead comfortable, dignified, and fulfilling lives in our private care homes. Schedule a visit at our two beautiful locations in Indianapolis and Carmel and learn more about our locations and how we can assist your loved ones through their memory loss, contact us today.