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Mar 20, 2011 05:43PM
Mary, I know I wasn't prepared to care for my mom at all -- but once I saw what I was into, I just dealt with it. You'll do what you need to do. Helping my parents when my dad was still alive was often stressful (those ambulance calls, dealing with phone calls when they panicked over something that was really OK, etc) but once my dad was gone and my mom was declining and I moved in with her, I was in over my head. Like I said, you just do what you need to do. I would urge everyone, however, to get more support than I had.
I hope y'all don't mind if I share some of what I went through with my mom's dementia...
Regarding recognizing dementia from other issues, it isn't always easy, and I would heartily recommend getting parents seen by someone who specializes in aging.
We didn't recognize my mom's dementia at first because it seemed like it was just more of mom's behavior, only worse -- but when I moved in with her I realized something was really wrong.
She completely covered it up when she saw her regular physician by being flirty (the Southern belle in her never turned off) and by not talking much but her oncologist saw her frequently (as did the on-staff therapist and the nursing staff) and since they saw her often, they saw what was going on and talked to me often (to provide mainly emotional support, which I was so grateful for).
If anyone is dealing with a parent with dementia, here's a website that helped me a lot:
It gives some really good tips on how to communicate with someone with demetia.
If you are concerned about a parent, there are some widely-known short tests. If your parent is resistant, for at least some of the questions you can just work them into conversation (in my mom's case, I couldn't tell her I was testing her, because she was already convinced I was trying to have her certified as "crazy" so I could steal her house. Sigh. And that was one of the easier parts of her behavior to deal with. It still makes me cry). The tests are the SLUMS and the MMSE tests. They aren't meant to make a definitive diagnosis but may help you decide if you have something to be concerned about or are just dealing with aging forgetfulness.
Some examples of my mother's dementia, which may or may not apply to others:
--She couldn't tell time from a digital clock at all, and from an analog clock only if she counted the numbers and tried to remember what each mark meant.
--She couldn't understand a monthly calendar. I cannot tell you the hours we spend looking at her appointment calender, trying to help her understand how to read it (at her insistance -- she knew she used to be able to understand how to read a calendar and was very frustrated that she couldn't do it any more).
--She couldn't write a check properly. She knew what they were for and generally what went on them but didn't know what went where. And she sent empty bills out. She couldn't use a check register and used her deposit slips to record the checks she was writing, but frequently without putting down the right/needed information (she really didn't want me to help with any of this although I was cleared to write checks, but sometimes when she got too confused she let me help).
--She became quite paranoid at times.
--She became very mean and hateful to me at times (but not all the time).
--She hallucinated (she saw lightening bugs as big as dinner plates, for example) or couldn't interpret what she was seeing. She saw water on the patio when it was dry, or rain when it was a cloudless sky. She saw people (toddlers, relatives who had died, etc.) in the house that weren't there. (Here's one, much of what mom did upset me or made me cry but at this I laughed so hard: I was in the middle of chemo and so tired I could barely get up the stairs, and she called my brother and told him I was sneaking men through the front door (is that really sneaking, if it was the front door?) into the house every night. Can you imagine??? Like I even had the energy to THINK about a man!! Ah, mom.)
--Family history got revised quite a bit her last few years (and that was one of the things my brothers did see, because she felt safe talking about the past -- everyone learned very quickly not to contridict her!).
--She didn't know what day or month it was most of the time; she covered that up by keeping the paper by the phone.
--She couldn't comprehend most of what she read, she couldn't follow a TV show or movie plot, and she often couldn't comprehend a photo.
--She got very confused about her meds and when to take them. Also, a few times her pills disappeared (I suspect she was tossing them without realizing it; if she'd taken them at the rate they were disappearing, she would have gotten ill or died -- she had been given some short-term, heavy duty pain meds for a back issue and I finally hid the bottles -- at her suggestion; she knew the pills were vanishing but had no memory of doing anything with them -- so she only had a day's worth to deal with and couldn't toss the rest).
--She would go into confused spells -- it's called "sundowning" because it frequently happens at that time of day; for mom it was usually a bit later at night -- she would go into a confused state of mind and talk to me for hours to try to understand something. I can't tell you how often I sat and cried through these.
It was really, really hard to deal with, and it was really hard to deal with her anger and meanness; one thing that kept me going and helped me focus on just being as kind and gentle as I could was the thought that this wasn't really my mom any more. It was a very sad time of my life. She died while I was in rads.
BTW, my mom was only on one blood pressure med (I'm taking the same one now) , and her fish oil, and that was it, except for the short time she was on the pain med.
Whether or not a parent has dementia (my dad stayed very sharp until he died), helping them during this time of their lives is really stressful and difficult. It's also a blessing to be able to help. Most of all, though, everyone, please remember to take care of yourselves.