alzheimers dementiaDear Sheila,
A year ago, when my mom started showing signs of dementia, my sister moved in and has been taking care of her. A few times a year I go visit them and give my sister a break. It’s usually been just fine, but my last visit felt like I had walked into a horror movie. My sister had told me that mom had “gotten worse,” but I didn’t expect what I found. One day she was the mom I know; sweet, witty, and appreciative. But the next day she might wake up furious with the world, cursing at me, accusing me of stealing and worse. It’s like she has a split personality. My sister just asked me to stay in town an extra day after she comes back from vacation next month so we can “talk about mom” and now I know why. I want to be prepared with some ideas. Do you have any advice?
-Daughter of Jekyll and Hyde 

Dear Daughter,
Oh my! I can sincerely identify with you. Please know you are not alone. Dementia can take many forms and her behavior is not unusual. But I know that doesn’t make it any easier for you and your sister. You said that it was just a year ago that your mom started showing “signs” of dementia. I’m wondering if she has been seen by her primary physician or someone else qualified to diagnose her illness such as geriatric physician. A qualified specialist should be able to assess your mother and offer suggestions for treatment options and resources.

Often times in the early to mid-stages of dementia a person may recognize that something is wrong, feel a loss of control, and lash out at those closest to them.

I do want to give you and your sister kudos for finding a way to keep your mom safe and living at home. Many studies have found that aging in place is a key factor in delaying further deterioration. But typically, families find that it can become too much for just one or two people to serve as full-time caregivers. Burnout and exhaustion almost always set in and I would not be surprised if this is what your sister wants to talk about. If so, I have two ideas for you. Since it sounds like your mom is still able to enjoy activities, you might consider looking for an adult day care or senior center.

These programs provide opportunities for mental and physical stimulation for people wanting to age in place. Social interaction and recreational activities such as day trips, exercise classes, Bingo, speakers and a variety of other activities are aimed at keeping the participants engaged. It would also give your sister respite during the daytime. To learn about resources in your area you can contact The Alzheimer’s Association, the local senior center or a care manager. Another option is to hire a home care agency to provide companionship and respite services giving you and your sister relief from caregiving. Family Resource Home Care has experienced caregivers who can provide care for as few as 2 hours or as much as 24-hour live-in care. If you want more help figuring out your next steps, a geriatric care manager may also prove helpful. Please feel free to contact me for help with a referral or to discuss any of these ideas. I will be happy to help.
~Sheila

photo credit: my grandmother via photopin (license)