Mom with Dementia Not Recognizing Her Own Hands

Dementia is a challenging and often heartbreaking journey, not just for the person affected by it, but also for their loved ones. It can manifest in various ways, each more puzzling and distressing than the last. One such perplexing symptom that can occur in late-stage Alzheimer’s disease is when a person with dementia has trouble recognizing their own hands. 

Why Does this Happen?

dementia patient face up close

In the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease, individuals may exhibit behaviors that seem quite unusual and even distressing. One such behavior is a peculiar preoccupation with their hands. Caregivers often observe their loved ones fiddling with their hands, picking at their nails, or displaying a newfound fascination with their own hands as if they don’t quite recognize them.

Imagine this scenario: You visit your mom, who is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s, and you notice her sitting with her hands resting on a table. However, instead of recognizing her own hands as part of her body, she appears startled, almost as if she believes they belong to someone else.

But why does this happen? Why do individuals with late-stage Alzheimer’s seem to have trouble recognizing their own hands? Let’s delve into the reasons behind this puzzling phenomenon.

Possible reasons: 

1. A Normal Developmental Occurrence

While it may seem perplexing, the experience of a person with dementia having trouble recognizing their own hands can be seen as a normal developmental occurrence within the context of the disease. Dementia is not a linear journey, but rather a complex and ever-changing landscape.

As dementia progresses, it can sometimes feel like the affected individual is regressing in their development. This doesn’t necessarily follow a predictable pattern or timeline. They may exhibit behaviors and thought processes that harken back to earlier stages of their life as if their mind is rewinding the clock.

One of the consequences of this regression can be difficulty in recognizing one’s body parts, particularly their hands. This regression, while challenging to understand and witness, is a reminder that dementia is a deeply complex and multifaceted disease.

2. A Disconnect Between Mind and Body

In the late stages of dementia, verbal communication often becomes limited or even nonexistent. This presents a significant challenge in understanding the internal experiences of those with the disease. However, we can piece together some clues based on their behaviors.

Imagine a scenario where your mom, who is in the advanced stages of dementia, gazes into a mirror and expresses surprise at the sight of her “old” hands. It’s important to note that this reaction is not rooted in vanity or an accurate perception of age. Instead, it reflects a profound disconnect between her mind and her body.

Dementia can transport individuals back to earlier stages of life, where they may perceive themselves as much younger than they are at present. This discrepancy between their internal self-perception and their physical reality can be disorienting and distressing.

3. The Emotional Impact

The experience of having trouble recognizing one’s own hands can be emotionally challenging for the person with dementia and equally distressing for their caregivers. While we may not fully grasp the internal world of someone with late-stage dementia, we can imagine the confusion, fear, and frustration that such a phenomenon may evoke.

For the individual with dementia, not recognizing their own hands may contribute to an overwhelming sense of disconnection from reality. The world around them becomes increasingly unfamiliar, and even their own body can feel like a foreign entity.

As caregivers, witnessing our loved ones struggle with this symptom can be heart-wrenching. We want to alleviate their distress, but the nature of dementia often makes it impossible to communicate effectively. It is a reminder of the profound challenges that both the person with dementia and their caregivers face as they navigate this difficult journey.

What Can We Do About It?

Witnessing a loved one’s struggle with recognizing their own hands can be distressing, but there are steps we can take to provide support and comfort.

1. Provide Her with Gentle Reassurance

When your mom seems startled by her hands or expresses surprise at their appearance, it’s crucial to offer gentle reassurance. Let her know that you are there for her and that her hands are still a part of her. Hold her hands and comfort her to provide a sense of security.

2. Create a Calm Environment Around Her

Calm Environment

Minimizing distractions and creating a calm and soothing environment can help reduce anxiety and confusion. Soft music, familiar scents, and familiar objects can provide comfort and ease the disorientation that individuals with dementia often experience.

3. Encourage Hand Holding

Hand Holding

Holding hands with your loved one can be a powerful way to connect with them. The tactile sensation of touch can provide a sense of grounding and security. It’s an unspoken way to let them know that you are there, and you care.

4. Engage in Sensory Activities

Sensory activities can be beneficial in providing comfort and a sense of grounding. Soft blankets, hand massages, or even holding their hands can help them reconnect with their bodies.

5. Minimize Triggers

Avoid situations or objects that may exacerbate their confusion or discomfort. For instance, if seeing their reflection in a mirror is distressing, consider covering it or removing it temporarily.

6. Seek Professional Guidance

Consult with healthcare professionals and dementia experts to better understand and manage these symptoms. They may offer valuable insights and strategies for providing care.

7. Maintain Routine and Familiarity

Consistency and routine can be reassuring for individuals with dementia. Try to maintain familiar routines and surroundings to reduce their anxiety.

8. Join a Caregiver Support Group

Connect with support groups or online communities for caregivers of individuals with dementia. Sharing experiences and learning from others can provide valuable guidance and emotional support.


In the complex journey of dementia, moments like struggling to recognize one’s own hands can be disorienting and emotionally taxing. It’s essential to approach these situations with empathy and patience, providing the love and support your loved one needs. 

Dementia takes a toll on both the person experiencing it and their caregivers, but understanding and compassion can make the path a little less daunting.

As we reflect on the experiences of those with dementia and the challenges they face in recognizing their own hands, let’s remember to share our own stories and insights in the comments section. 

Have you encountered similar situations with your loved ones, and how did you handle them? Your input and experiences can provide valuable guidance to others who are navigating this difficult journey.

Let’s continue this important conversation in the comments.

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