Question: My mother has always been a caretaker—she has always taken care of anyone who needed anything done. She has always been busy. Even after a fall, she stayed busy sewing, crocheting, cooking, etc. Now after another fall—which broke her leg, left her unconscious on the floor overnight and resulted in hypothermia—she has suffered some brain damage. She is still aware and able to physically care for herself. She is able to reason simple things but has lost her ability to follow complex things or learn new things. She has also forgotten so much that she once knew. She is 87, her friends have died, and she is no longer interested in doing any of the things that previously interested her. We have had to take away her driving privilege as her slow response time was dangerous. She is too physically weak to do much other than necessary activities of daily living. My sister and I have offered to take her anywhere whenever she wants to go - but the only thing she will do is go to the hair dresser's (who is my sister), church on Sunday, and grocery shopping after the hairdresser. The rest of the time, she sits alone in her home watching TV (but says there is very little on that interests her) and reading if my daughter can find anything at the library that interests her. She is tired of crocheting and says she is bored. I am worried as I cannot think of anything to interest her. Visitors other than myself wear her out if they stay longer than 20-30 minutes because she feels she needs to "do" something to entertain them, i.e. serve food, think of things to talk about, etc. I love her and would spend all of my time with her, but I live 200 miles away and only get back every 2-3 weeks for a few days. Do you have any suggestions for things for her to do?
Dr. Amy: Your mother is lucky to have two daughters who are so interested and engaged in her wellbeing. And she sounds like she is pretty resilient—picking herself up after the first fall and staying busy. This last tumble seems to have really hurt her. It seems to be having a big impact on her life. She is not her same old self—and perhaps may never be. Anytime we suffer a loss it takes time to sort through what the change means, to mourn what’s lost, make adjustments, and figure out what we want to do now that things are different. Your mother may still be mourning her loss. She may feel disoriented and low. Her challenge is to re-examine her beliefs about what it means to live a good life. Often, it is our beliefs about how we have to be in the world that hold us back or prevent us from enjoying life. Your mothers’ belief that she must always provide food and entertainment to guests is an example of a limiting belief. Perhaps you can help her to more clearly understand what it was about helping others that gave her the greatest pleasure. With this understanding, she can figure out what she can do now, even if she can’t do everything she used to do. That said, it’s important not to overlook the possibility that your mother is suffering from depression. Depression is not a normal part of aging and often develops in the wake of health problems. Some of the signs can include memory problems, lack of motivation and energy, and the loss of interest in socializing and hobbies. I encourage you to talk to your mom about seeing her doctor, and then go with her to her appointment.
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