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mum thinks dad is her uncle / brother / cousin


Registered User
Jan 30, 2014
Hi, I have just joined this forum, and would like some advice please. My mum has just been diagnosed with dementia. Probably vascular but this hasn't been finally confirmed just yet.

Mum is 85 and lives in her own home with Dad who is almost 94 and still functioning very well mentally. Dad is not the most patient man on the planet and insists on correcting mum a lot of the time and then they get into rows, but he does have a real problem because over the past couple of weeks she has had frequent episodes of thinking he is not Dad but her uncle / father / cousin and he can't convince her that he is indeed her husband. She keeps asking him where her husband is and sometimes becomes frightened by this strange person in the house who pretends to be her husband - I think the fear is largely due to him getting angry with her. She calls other family members asking if they know where dad is and it is really difficult to calm her or convince her that Dad is right there and that he is who he says he is. The next day mum will usually recognise him OK and ask him where he was the previous day but this is now happening every other day.

I just wondered if anyone else has experienced a similar thing and could advise us all about how best to handle this one, since just going along with mum's view can't resolve the matter of the 'missing' husband. (We tried getting him to go out and come back in again saying he had returned but on that occasion it did not work.)


Registered User
Mar 24, 2012
Hello and welcome to Talking Point, I have heard of this sort of thing before and am sure that someone will be along soon who has experience of this and can advise you,

Best wishes Jeany x

Ann Mac

Registered User
Oct 17, 2013
Mil is sometimes convinced that her son (my husband) is HER husband - she doesn't mix him up with my late Father in Law, rather she has a recurring belief that she married again, several years ago - she also on occasions, looks for the children from this second marriage - my husband is her only child. On other occasions, she thinks he is her brother/cousin or even Father.

At first, we did tend to correct her, and she reacted as though we were joking with her, and once or twice got a bit narky about it. Now we mainly just go along with it - and if we hit the odd awkward situation (like her demanding a double bed so they can sleep together :eek: ) we distract, distract, distract. Thankfully, for us, these 'delusions' tend to be pretty short in duration, usually only minutes - and usually she cannot remember them afterwards.

Getting our heads round the fact that she isn't lying, and truly believes these mistaken convictions was (and sometimes still is) really hard - more and more we take the stance of IF it doesn't hurt her, or cause any real problems, then just agree.

There is nothing you can do to change what your Mum believes is totally and utterly true - I guess you can only change how you react, and to be honest, just accepting that she can't help it and making the decision to go along with her actually makes it easier - or at least, it has for us.

As for the 'missing husband' - he is at work, at the shops, away on business, visiting friends - whichever she is most likely to accept x


Registered User
Jan 21, 2014
I agree with ann mac my MIL does the same thing with FIL and thinks my husband is other family members who have passed away often she will talk about her mum and dad as if they are sat next to her all we do is agree and distract or she gets upset xx

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Registered User
Dec 18, 2013
Not recognising family members or asking for family who have died is quite common.

Your Dad will need to understand that he can't correct your mum, because she has lost her ability to associate the physical person in front of her with her memory of that person.
For example ,it may be that the husband she recognises is the young husband when they were first married, not the elderly person she sees in front of her, or she might just be confused about identities

Probably you won't be able to resolve the 'missing husband' by any method other than waiting until your mum returns to her 'recognising' state.

It is not her fault - it is a part of the progression of the disease.

It is very upsetting for your Dad, but by getting angry and correcting her he will just make unhappiness.
He will have to go along with whatever she believes to be her reality and try 'white lies' and distraction to keep them both from getting distressed.

I used to find with my Dad that he popped in and out of the present and the past - fortunately, he was 90% in the present.

It's hard and it's an unpleasant disease.

Here is some excellent information which was posted , which might help you.............

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Registered User
Jan 30, 2014
many thanks for the helpful responses to my query.

It just goes against Dad's nature to not correct / argue so he is on a steep learning curve and at 94 it is hard for him. The rest of us will just have to keep reminding / encouraging him to follow the very helpful suggestions on communication included in the Compassionate Communication piece by Liz Ayres. I will print it out and send him a copy (I live a long way away and am currently unable to travel due to a recent operation so can't visit).

What to tell mum about where her husband is is the tricky one - as he hardly ever actually goes anywhere without her she is not likely to believe most things, and if he says he has gone upstairs for a snooze she insists on going up to check, so that does not help. She also follows Dad around so he can't get away from her.

The suggestion that she might not recognise Dad because he looks old fits with what she told my niece on one occasion, that her husband was a young man and this person is old.

We do now have a definite diagnosis - a double dose of dementia - vascular and Alzheimers.:eek: No wonder mum is 'losing it'. Hopefully the local health and social services support teams will be able to help us to maintain the home situation for a while. The mental health nurse is visiting to talk to mum, dad and my sister this afternoon.


Volunteer Moderator
Jul 14, 2006
South Staffordshire
I have not been my husband's wife for quite some years. When I first stopped being his wife he said I was the nice lady who stayed with him while he waited for his wife.

When he asked when his wife was coming I told him later, or She was doing some shopping, picking the grandchildren up etc. anything to let him know at that moment where she was.i would distract as well by asking him to help me do something.

Now he is in a nursing home and has gone back further to a time where not only do I not exist but our children and grandchildren have gone. He has greeted me as his sister, his mother, his aunt and his Grandmother. All these people are deceased.

Today when I visited he asked when his sister would be here. I told him after tea. Would she be with his mother. I told him yes of course, as they were having tea together. He was happy with the information and we then had a conversation about frogs and cabbages and the numbers 10 and 28. His world is such a funny place to be. I am happy to join him there and see life as he does. At least when I come home I can be in the real world, somewhere he will never be again.

So try to get your Father to go along with her way of seeing things, to continually correct will only cause anxiety and aggravation for your Mum which in turn makes life harder for your Father.

It is not easy, so many older people see it as lying which is unacceptable. These white lies can help so much and really are not hurting anyone. They can be a great comfort to someone who is confused and very unsure of what is happening to them.

Take care,


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Registered User
Jan 30, 2014
Further to my last post, Dad is really trying hard, but unfortunately he is finding that telling mum that the real Dad is out at a meeting (or whatever story he comes up with) and will be back later is not really working because she still won't let it drop. For a start she is annoyed that he went out without telling her "I am always the last person to be told things...", and she still keeps on asking where he is and when he is coming back, no matter how many times Dad repeats the story. Distraction does not work, at least when he tries it though it seems to be more successful if others do - it is him she is obsessing over so maybe she can't be distracted by him. Last night in desperation he resorted to just not answering and let her go on and on asking until eventually she went off to bed in a bad mood.

However, I think she is getting less upset than she was when Dad just tried to convince her that he was Dad and had gone nowhere, so I guess that is something.

Today has been better, and she has asked what it was she got mixed up about yesterday.

Since mum is so persistent and this goes on for many hours, mostly into the evening, we are wondering whether it might be worth trying telling her that Dad has gone away on a course overnight or similar, and that the other person (whoever she thinks it is at the time) is staying to keep her company as Dad couldn't be there.

Has anybody had a similar experience and have any suggestions?


Registered User
Feb 10, 2010
Not sure if you've done this but your dad could try putting his coat and shoes on and going out and knock on the door as if coming back from his meeting. Sometimes something like this causes the brain to kinda jump back in to synch again. Same also can sometimes be achieved by both of them going out for a walk round the block and coming back again TOGETHER. The man in the house is then gone if you see what i mean.

It is one of those very frustrating phases and if things are as desparate as they sound then maybe you need to have a word with her GP about some medication to calm her down a bit.

You and your dad are doing everything right so don't think that you have failed. Sometimes what works for one person doesn't for another.