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I'm caring for my mother who has dementia. She wants to see her mother, who passed on over 40 years ago. I've tried to explain this but it just confuses her. What can I do to help her?

 

Question:  I am caring for my 90-year-old mother. She was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2007, the year she came to live with us. We have seen a steady, relentless decline since that time. My current problem is she wants to see her mother. She believes that her mother is wondering where she is and my mother doesn't know how to find her. I tried initially to explain that her mother passed on over 40 years ago and that she is watching over her from heaven. That just upset her. I have just tried suggesting she write her a letter and gave her an address to send the letter to; however, she doesn't ever write anything down. She just sits there with the address and a writing pad and pen for several hours, then just walks away. These thoughts are creating a lot of anxiety in her and I just don't know what to do to help her.

Dr. Amy:   I think you may find it helpful, next time this occurs, to shift the focus. Rather than address your mother's desire to find her mother, try helping her to remember the special times she had with her. You might ask her about a certain event or about her mother's life. David Troxel explains this approach in detail in his excellent book, "A Dignified Life: The Best Friends Approach to Alzheimer's Care."  At the same time, you may also want to speak with the doctor to explore whether your mother's anxiety could be reduced through medication.

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. March 12, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Posted by Andy

    My Mum asks about my Dad who died two years ago she also say's she wants to go home to see her Mum and Dad they died 35 years ago. I have realised that she does this when something has upset her. I distract her by calmly talking about something else such as the weather or her grandchildren. Trying to explain to her every time that her parents and my Dad have died is distressing for her and there is no point, she will ony ask about them again half an hour later because she can't remember the previous conversation. Really Mum is just expressing her feelings of loneliness and sadness. I wait for her to be in a good mood before I talk to her about my Dad and when I do it's always in a happy way usually a funny story or a time that I know she will remember if only for a short time. I think our initial reaction to anyone asking a direct question is to be honest and straight to the point I think where Dementia is concerned that is definately not always the best way. Hope this helps.

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    • March 21, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Posted by spotter

      This is a very wise way to handle things, Andy! It both respects your Mum's dignity and recognizes that, because of the dementia, she is unable to really process that her husband and Mum and Dad have passed. As you know, we can't talk people out of the confusion of dementia. It may actually add to the agitation. When possible, we do recommend being honest with people with dementia. However, as you pointed out, depending on the level of dementia, it may be kinder to redirect the conversation as you suggested. Your Mum is fortunate to have you as a caregiver!

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      • May 12, 2012 at 9:19 am | Posted by Mohamed

        Her body is what will live on and this can be done without the mind. Look at folks that live for 20 years is coma or with mnmaiil brain activity. Dementia is not a determining factor in expectancy, all factors must be considered.

        Reply

  2. August 12, 2011 at 10:00 pm | Posted by Karen Slocum

    My mother resolved this problem for me herself. She was always asking about her mother. One day I ended a phone call with my niece, said goodbye and hung up. My mother was upset. She said she wanted to talk on the phone. I immediately called my niece back and said "Grandma wants to talk with you" My mother took the phone, listened for a few seconds and said "Mama, I'm so glad to talk to you. I miss you so much." I could just barely hear my niece telling her "No grandma, it's me." I know that the phone was physically connected to my niece, but I know with my whole being, and totally believe, that my mother was talking to her mother at that moment. She finally told her mother she loved her and hoped to see her soon. Depending on how confused your mom is, maybe a visit to a church, or a place where she remembers being with her mother, and just letting her talk to, or about, her mother will give her the peace she needs.

    Reply

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