My elderly mother tries to control my life like I'm still a teenager. What can I do?


Q: I am caring for my 81-year-old mother who lives with me. She is very controlling, wants to rule my life, and treats me like I’m still a teenager. Pointing this out to her doesn’t seem to do any good. What can I do?

A: Hummm… you know, since pointing it out to your mom makes no difference, I wonder if her short-term memory isn't working—which is a clear warning sign of dementia. Realize that by the age of 85 nearly 50% of all elders have dementia (Alzheimer's is one type making up 65%), so it sounds likely that this is starting to happen.

Also, understand that dementia starts sloooowly and develops over many years. I'd get her evaluated for by a neurologist specialized in dementia ASAP. You can find one by calling the Alzheimer's Association (800-272-3900) and asking who they recommend there. If she does have dementia, the doctor will treat her with medication (Aricept, Exelon, Razadyne, Namenda) to slow the progression of the disease. Many doctors also treat dementia patients with an anti-depressant, which smoothes out moods and may also reduce the negative focus on you.

But, if she is sharp as a tack and doesn't have dementia (or is in the very early stage), you can start setting some boundaries and use behavior modification. I did this with my elderly father and it was so effective I just had to write a book about it: "Elder Rage". First you need the "Jacqueline Marcell Emotional Shield", so there, I give it to you. Put that on every day and then don't let anything she says bother you, really, all negativity has to bounce right off you. Then after she makes a nasty comment calmly say, "Oh Mom, I love you, but that wasn't very nice to say. You know, when you are ready to talk nicely to me—I'll be back". And then just leave the room. No arguing, no yelling, no attitude, just set your boundary EVERY time. If you do this enough, she'll start to get it. And then most importantly, when she is being nice to you, be sure to acknowledge it, give compliments, throw in a gentle touch, hug or kiss—and you will be sure to get lots more of that behavior.

Jacqueline Marcell is a former television executive who was so compelled by caring for her elderly parents (both with early Alzheimer's not diagnosed for over a year) she wrote "Elder Rage." She is also an international speaker on elder care and host of the popular Internet radio program "Coping With Caregiving."

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Thanks Jacqueline. I've had haunting concerns as to my mother's mental stability, allbeit dementia or alzheimers. It's a hard call here, unless tested that is, because she demonstrates an extreme capability of taking care of all of her financial responsibilities down to the penny. She's also well socialized and deeply rooted in her home area Church, and keeps active with senior group activities. Because many over the years know and love my mother, they completely ignore the apparent signs exhibited that I wrote about in my comments.

My problem is that she's already threatened to call the police if I come to her home to enforce that she go to any doctor appointment. Can you imagine how she's going to react to your suggestion of going to a Neurologist? I'm wondering if I may have to intervene through the court system or some 'aging foundation' in her area. I'm thinking that should I go to stay with her that with more prodding, I can get her to go without force.

Speaking from a male viewpoint, I know I am going to get into trouble with this comment from all you mothers out there, but some women have a difficult time cutting the cord from their child as an adult and cannot stop interfering with their children's lives. As soon as gave up my pleasant life in CA and come back here to look after her, when I walked in the door I was immediately 12 years old again, without even the consideration given a teenager with a driver's licence. I have seen ahd heard women say often or refer to their sons as "My little boy" or My baby", and when pointed out that that is patronizing (I guess Matronizing is more accurate) they aways fall back on that old "Part of my body" excuse instead of recognizing that we are now individuals and deserve to be treated that way. The response is that "you will always be a baby to me." Barf. Totally unfair and manipulative. It is also wrapped up, in my family at least, that at the same time we children were looked upon more as possessions, like indentured servants, to be ordered around - my mom would talk about us when we were in the same room as if we were either deaf or not really there at all, no consideration for our feelings. That is the result of being narcissisic, and when a person is narcissisic, there is no reasoning that will make them see any different. In Jane Austen's "Mansfield Park", one of the characters said something like "I am selfish, and selfishness must always be forgiven, as there is no cure." Jane Austen had one of the sharpest insights as to human behavior as any author ever has, that is why she was so good. By the way, I did point out on another thread that I am a confirmed old curmudgen and likely to remain so, as there is no cure.
cmagnum - you discribed my mom perfectly - but, if you remember I once said Both of my parents were narcissic each in their own way - it is a wonder they even got down off their own self-made pedestals to even get married (I think sex had a lot to do with it, at least on my dad's side. Still a forbidden thing in rural Illinois 1934). In my case, mom did not want me to grow up as it gave her some purpose in life, dad did not care one way or another, he was just satisfied with himself. Thanks mizipinki - it is a cycle, - my grandma (Mom's mom) behaved in exactly the same way, and one of dad's problem is that his mother spoiled him so badly the same way that he was ruined for any other relationship! Interesting how that happens. Cmagnum - I thought I had protected myself but as it turns out I just did not realize the extent of it until I moved back here and got my foot stuck in the mud. Very deep mud.