THE BLOG
09/25/2013 03:05 pm ET | Updated Nov 25, 2013

Why You Should Visit Loved Ones With Alzheimer's -- Even if They Don't Recognize You

There was a lady -- Helen -- who had dementia. Every time her daughter, Heidi, visited, Helen showed no sign of recognizing her daughter. Heidi was heartbroken. Time after time it was the same. She'd visit and get no response whatsoever, so finally she made the painful decision to stop visiting. It only upset her and she believed her mother felt no pleasure during their visits

Here are some reasons to keep visiting, even if your loved ones don't recognize you:

1. They May Recognize You but Not Be Able to Express it

It's always possible, however, that your loved ones do recognize you but are just not be able to show it.

I had a personal experience which I believe demonstrates this. I volunteer to visit three ladies with dementia at a local memory care facility. One of the ladies I was assigned to visit was named Doris.

Doris was so frail that just about the most I could do with her was sit and hold her hand. I also talked to her a little, but she rarely said anything in response. In fact, she rarely said anything to anyone. She showed no sign of recognizing me from my previous visits.

Then one day -- during my sixth visit -- as I was holding her hand, she put her other hand on my arm and began caressing it. I had the distinct feeling that she remembered me. I don't think she would have been so openly affectionate with a total stranger.

I wasn't really surprised when I found out that Doris passed away just a few days after that visit. I was so happy I'd gone all those times and that she'd been so responsive during my final visit

2. They May Remember How Often You Visit Even if They no Longer Remember Their Relationship with You

I was speaking at an Alzheimer's family support group recently. A man there told me that he visited his wife, who had advanced-stage dementia, nearly every day, even though she didn't recognize him as her husband. He learned early on, however, that she knew when he'd missed a day. She'd always say, "You didn't come yesterday." Once he realized that she did remember if he'd been there, he tried even harder to never miss a day.

3. They May Enjoy Being Visited, Even if They Don't Know Who You Are

I had another personal experience which led me to this conclusion. Although I was fortunate enough that Ed, my Romanian life partner with dementia, always recognized me, he had many visitors he didn't remember. I was present during some of these visits and it was always perfectly obvious that he enjoyed spending time with them. When these people were there he'd often hold hands with one of them the whole time. And he'd have a long, pleasant talk with them.

4. You May Feel Gratified That You've Given Them Pleasure

Although the main focus of your visits are your loved ones, you might find there's an unexpected benefit for you, too. You may initially feel hurt or frustrated that they don't remember you, but if you can get over that hurdle and if it's clear that they are enjoying the visit, you will probably feel gratified that you gave them that pleasure. You may remain in a good mood for some time afterward.

Can anyone think of other reasons you should visit loved ones who don't recognize you?

Marie Marley is the award-winning author of Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy. Her website (ComeBackEarlyToday.com) contains a wealth of helpful information for Alzheimer's Caregivers.