Alzheimer’s Tip - Ask Them Their Age

Jacqueline Marcell Health Guide
  • A couple of weeks ago, I went to my family reunion in Montana and found myself on a mission discreetly observing all the many elders for any signs of dementia! As my favorite Aunt Aggie (86) and I chatted away for hours, I asked how old she was - which she was not pleased with. Not only did she pass all my subtle little tests with flying colors - so did her husband of 65 years, my dear Uncle Roy (89).


    Wow, that is so unusual, as nearly 50% of those over 85 will be afflicted with some form of dementia, usually Alzheimer's. How blessed their daughter is, being able to watch over them without the additional strain of dementia.

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    Then I had a birthday last week, which reminded me of all the times I asked my elderly mother or father, "Hey, it's going to be your birthday soon - how old are you going to be? Sometimes Mom would think real hard before saying she was 32 - but other days she was emphatically and accurately 82. Dad said he was 42, 52, and sometimes he was sure he was 102!


    Then one day Mom looked right at me and said in a panic, "Where's Jackie? Where's my little girl? I have to get up and find her!" I choked up as my heart broke that she didn't know me anymore. Somehow, I asked how old Little Jackie was. She thought real hard and said, "Well, she must be about ten now." Amazingly I had the insight to say, "Ohhhh, you know, she's with Aunt Aggie and Uncle Roy up at the Boulder and they're camping and fishing for the summer", drawing on fond family memories. "She called while you were sleeping and said to tell you they're having so much fun, she caught her first fish, and she loves you very much." As I hugged and kissed her for Little Jackie, she finally calmed down and smiled contentedly. Luckily, by the next day she was back to knowing me as her adult daughter and didn't ask about Little Jackie again - and I certainly didn't bring her up!


    I received the funniest email recently from a gal with a story about her mother who'd had Alzheimer's and how she'd role-play whomever the mom thought she was each day: her mother, sister or friend. Her mom always figured her age by saying, "I was born in 24... do the math". One day the daughter was perceived as the mom's older sister and they were talking about age. She asked how old her mom was and when she hesitated she told her, "You were born in 24... do the math." The mom's shocked response was, "Well, if I am 78-that makes you 80, Sis!" The daughter came back with, "Well, I look pretty darn good for 80, don't I?" The mom leaned forward studying her face and responded flatly, "No, not really." The daughter said she still laughs so hard every time she remembers that.


    If you are caring for an elder, try asking their age or the birthday question often, so you can easily be in their reality of the moment. It's a huge help in gaining insight and will help avoid unnecessary confusion and conflict.


    You can learn more about Jacqueline and find information about her book at

Published On: October 01, 2007