EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 10, 2013

Mother's dementia causing friction among family members

Elder Q & A
Rosanne DiStefano

---- — :Q: My 87-year-old mother is in the middle stages of dementia. Doctors are in disagreement whether she has Alzheimer’s Disease or vascular dementia. She remains fairly functional although she gets very confused, forgetful and sometimes has poor judgment. The biggest problem at this point is the fact some family members don’t have a good understanding of her limitations and get very frustrated and short tempered with her. I am the only sibling that doesn’t live in the immediate area so it is hard for me to run interference. My mother senses when someone is upset with her and then she withdraws. How do I handle this?

A: Regardless of her diagnosis your mother no longer has the ability to control what is happening to her. The problem is not with her but the response of others to her! Instead of being grateful for the abilities she still has it appears some family members are focusing on the negative aspects of the dementia. Their unfortunate behavior could be due to their inability to emotionally accept the changes with your mother, being uninformed about the cognitive progression with dementia or they are typically insensitive.

There is no denying it can be a challenge to deal with someone who has dementia. It is up to each individual to adapt rather than expecting the person afflicted to change. There are several suggestions you might make in hopes the family tensions will improve. It would be very beneficial for everyone to have a better understanding of how dementia impacts a person. Encourage all family members to read as much as they can about the condition whether that be doing research on the internet or checking out books at their local library. Caregiver Support Groups are available in most communities which can be an enormous source of information and support to family members. It might also be advantageous to consult a Caregiver Specialist or Family Counselor to facilitate a meeting with the entire family. Their extensive experience may be able to draw out each person to determine why they are having a negative reaction to your mother. Bringing in a professional rather than you being the catalyst for change is a much safer approach.

Since you are not living near your family most of your contact with your mother would be limited to phone calls. If she brings up situations where she has been offended by someone try to be patient, redirect the conversation and assure her everyone cares about her.

One of the most profound statements regarding behavioral changes comes from a book written by Joanne Koenig Coste (Learning to Speak Alzheimer’s). “Never question, chastise, or try to reason with the patient. Join him in his current place or time, no matter when or where that may be, and find joy with him there.” Life with you mother would go much easier if everyone who cares about her could embrace this philosophy.

Do you have a question? We encourage inquiries and comments from our readers. Direct correspondence to ro@esmv.org or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc. 360 Merrimack Street B#5, Lawrence, MA 01843. Rosanne DiStefano is the Executive Director of Elder Serrvices of the Merrimack Valley, Inc. For additional information or to schedule an appointment call 1-800-892-0890..