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Mum’s behaviour has always hurt. Now dementia is making it worse

Help me deal with mum's unkindness and dementia

Dear Lesley,

I’m looking after my 90-year old mum who has some dementia. My problem is her nasty attitude.

I’m single and have to work full-time, but I visit mum twice a week and call her a couple of times nearly every day. I try taking her out to new places and for dinner, but she makes it quite clear she’s not interested. And if I buy her new clothes she ceremoniously bins them.

Today she accused me of shutting down her heating deliberately so she cannot have it on. 

I’ve tried organising her finances by setting up direct debits, but she thinks I’m trying to steal from her. She moves papers and throws stuff away even when I’ve written on it not to destroy.

I have rowed with her only once and it was awful, so now I try just to ignore her when she is pushing for an argument, but she is very good at goading. When it gets bad I just go home and leave her for a day. 

I do not know what else to do for her. She does not want carers coming in and to be fair I am not keen as I have heard nothing but bad things from friends who have had carers for their parents.

There is no one else in the family to take turns to see her and I am well aware she is sick of seeing me and she lets me know about it.  She has no friends because she has always struggled with people and has a dreadful jealous nature which has terminated all friendships. I do have a brother but he disappeared over 10 years ago when he and mum had a massive row. 

It has got to the stage where if I say do not do this, she will go and do it. I understand it is the dementia causing it all but it does not help when you are at your lowest point and you have nowhere to turn.

I have spoken to my mum’s GP and she has advised me to get in touch with social services. I am now waiting for a date for a referral and assessment but they have told me it will take a while. 

Advice would be really helpful as I do not know what to do as the guilt is killing me, but my lifestyle at present is killing me and I need to take action before I go crazy.

Lesley replies:

I’m so sorry to hear you are struggling. Dementia can be a very cruel disease and family carers in your position often feel, like you, that there is nowhere to turn.

It sounds like your mum may have been unkind, jealous and anti-social all her life but certainly many of the things you are describing can be brought on by, or made worse by dementia.

It’s quite a complicated disease which comes in many forms. Sometimes the most obvious sign is memory loss but dementia can also impact the ability to carry out every day tasks as well as mood, behaviour and personality. People affected can become suspicious, devious or so confused that they no longer know what is real and what is true.

So, what can you do?

It’s a natural reaction to all this behaviour from your mum to become upset and frustrated. But do you think you could put this aside? You might be able to see underneath the nastiness someone who is scared, anxious, lonely and desperately worried about what is happening to her.

You mention in your email that you were going to get in touch with social services. I hope you have been able to arrange a visit so that your mum can be assessed. She may be at risk living on her own and it certainly sounds like she needs more support.

Most elderly people are resistant to any kind of help, especially from outside the family. Unfortunately you may have to try a number of different approaches to get your mum to accept outside help – tough love, stealth, assertiveness, persuasion. Whatever it takes, it’s worth persevering.

And while it’s true that some carers leave a lot to be desired, others can be very dedicated. Do get involved and influence this if you can, for example, by keeping an eye on how carers interact with your mum and how professional they seem.

Social services may also be able to suggest a Day Centre where your mum could go to meet people and it might be possible to able to arrange free transport.

I wonder if it’s worth you trying to contact your brother? He just might be ready for a reconciliation. You have nothing to lose by telling him about mum’s dementia and seeing if he is willing to patch things up and at least visit from time to time. And perhaps he is someone you can talk to?

Beyond that though I wouldn’t try to expand her social circle. She seems unwilling or unable to enjoy socialising or going to new places and then takes her unhappiness out on you. If you have the patience, a trip to the local park may be enough of a change of scenery. Or do some things indoors – simple jigsaws, looking at photographs, light cooking together – if she is able to participate.

You have a fairly clear view of how your mum is. She is unlikely to change. Arguing with her doesn’t help. Now she is probably not able to have a rational conversation anyway. Can you find a way to prepare for her goading, expect it and then detach yourself, somehow letting it bounce off you? If it’s on the phone, hold the phone away from your ear and just say ‘yes’ from time to time. If you are visiting, go into another room, or get some fresh air. Sing a song or pretend you didn’t hear. Sometimes, as you have found, all you can do is leave. Give yourself permission to do that.

What about you?

It’s OK to think about your own needs in all of this.

Would it help you to talk to other carers in the same situation? You may have a local carers support group. Or you could try the Alzheimer’s online forum  as a place to let off steam. Your own GP may be able to advise about sources of support, offer CBT (talking therapy) and advice about any carer benefits you may be entitled to.

Are you able to get away from the situation? Every family carer needs respite from time to time. If you have social services support this might be a little more possible. Your own social life has probably declined. I’m wondering if you could contact old friends or find ways to make some new ones so that your life is not all about work and looking after your mum.

Finally, you mentioned the problem with bills and paperwork. Financial Power of Attorney would enable you to control your Mum’s finances, give you direct access to her bank account and the legal right to look at her paperwork. In this situation, as with many of the others you describe, sadly, you have to take on the role of the responsible adult. Increasingly it seems like your mum is no longer able to do that.

I wish there were a nice easy solution or a way to make your mum into a nicer person. Unfortunately, there isn’t and the dementia is just making matters worse.

Do remind yourself that you are only human and that you are doing your best. Your mum doesn’t realise it but she is lucky to have you. So be kind to yourself, get whatever support you can, for yourself and for your mum. Start to make some changes to make life more bearable. I’m sure readers of this site will understand and sympathise with you.

Lesley

Dr Lesley Trenner is an eldercare coach with extensive qualifications and experience in life coaching. Lesley provides one-to-one help for people who are struggling to cope with the ’emotional rollercoaster’ of eldercare or balance caring responsibilities with a  busy career. Sessions are available face-to-face (London) or on the phone. Email Lesley or call 07919 880 250 for a free introductory chat. You can also visit her Facebook page.

 

Image by DarkWorkX from Pixabay

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Elisabeth Goodman
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Elisabeth Goodman

What a lovely, spot on, series of tips Lesley. Whilst my Mum is, thankfully, very pleasant most of the time, I recognise a lot of parallels with your writer’s experiences and what you suggest. I’m sure others will find what you have to say enormously helpful.

Lesley Trenner
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Lesley Trenner

Hi Elisabeth. Glad you found the article useful and thanks for your kind comments. My own mother had dementia and whilst a lot of the time she was pleasant, sometimes the dementia made her personality change completely. It can be so hard for families…

L Hooker
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L Hooker

I feel for this woman. My first thought is antianxiety meds for the mother would help. Maybe even anti-depressants. This helped my mother tremendously. Having social services is a must. Having help from professionals can make all the difference.
Knowing that one thing will not fix all and that a multi-pronged approach is the answer. Slowly things will change and all involved will hopefully be at peace with the situation.

Thank you