Question: My 87 year old mother lives in a condo that my husband and I own. It is two hours away from where we live. Mother has dementia, refuses to go to a doctor, fights with her neighbors, and threatens people. She is also very nasty with my sister and me. She has even accused me of stealing from her since I was 19. I talked with an attorney about a conservatorship but he said until she shows signs of harming herself there is nothing we can do. She still takes care of herself, the condo, and her two dogs. It is just that she is so nasty and difficult to deal with. She is causing a lot of stress for all of us. My sister and I don't know what to do.
Dr. Amy: Your letter raises a number of points about safety, the law, your mother’s health, and your caregiving experience. First about safety and the law: You do not say what types of threats your mother is making, but as I am sure your lawyer explained, action can and should be taken if she presents a danger to herself or others. If you feel she may be capable of hurting another, I encourage you to act without delay. About your mother’s health: I am not sure whether your mother’s behavior has changed or whether she has always been nasty to you and your sister. People suffering from dementia often have personality changes related to the changes occurring in their brains. This can result in their acting inappropriately or saying hurtful things. Is there anyone at all monitoring her health? Does she trust anyone well enough to let that person take her to the doctor—or at least give that person written permission to consult the doctor about her health? It would also be helpful if there were someone nearby who could monitor the situation. I am not sure how easy it is for you to do this, being two hours away. Somehow, there must be a way to have your mother assessed. Lastly, about your caregiving journey: One of the best things you can do is to remain calm and redirect your mother when she is hurtful or accuses you of stealing. Do not engage in debate. This is not always easy, especially when our mother—whom we want to be loving and nurturing—is menacing and nasty. I highly recommend the book, A Dignified Life By Virginia Bell and David Troxel. They have wonderful, easy to implement ideas for dealing with challenging behavior. I also encourage you to call the Alzheimer’s Association in your area to explore support groups and resources. One of the great benefits of attending a support group is you will hear the strategies other people are using to minimize distress and maximize quality of life for both the person with dementia and the whole family.
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