© 2019 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Objective: Thought suppression may not work effectively when people have a cognitive impairment. This study tests whether participants with dementia showed lessened or enhanced recall and recognition of dementia-related words compared with a control population. Methods: Fifty participants living with dementia with mild levels of cognitive impairment and a control group of 52 participants without a diagnosis of dementia took part. A list of 12 words, composed of six dementia-related and six neutral words matched for frequency and length, was read out on four occasions, with the word order being varied for each presentation. Recognition was also assessed. Results: There was an interaction between word-type and participant group at both recall and recognition. While control participants recalled more neutral than dementia-related words, there was no difference for dementia participants. However, dementia participants recognised a significantly higher proportion of the dementia-related words, while there was no difference in word-type recognition for control participants. Conclusions: This study adapts a social psychological paradigm to explore whether an important psychological mechanism for reducing distress can be affected by cognitive impairment. Our findings suggest that for people living with dementia, thought suppression may be either ineffective in reducing conscious awareness of distal threats or operate in an ironic fashion. While threatening proximal material may be repressed from awareness, distal threats may return into implicit awareness. This casts new light on research and has clinical implications.