Dad's Sense of Reality is Gone. What Do I Do?


Q: My father, who has Alzheimer's, keeps asking about his mother, who died many years ago. When I tell him that, he bursts into fits of uncontrollable crying. How should I handle it?

A: Enter you father's reality wherever he may be. (Read: "Getting into a Dementia Patient's Head")

What your father is thinking and feeling is his reality. He is living in the past, where his mother is alive. Many Alzheimer's patients live in the past, and it's easier for the caregiver to go there. There are times when you can try to explain true reality, but chose your battles.

Other times, it may be more productive, and less stressful, to enter his reality. If he asks about his mother and he thinks she is still alive, then talk with him about his mother from a positive perspective. Ask him about the favorite dish she cooked for him and other stories that you remember he told you as you were growing up. If he asks where she is, tell him she is out of the house grocery shopping or something along these lines.

Deanna Lueckenotte is the author of "Alzheimer's Days Gone By: For Those Caring for Their Loved Ones." She plans to continue publishing books related to Alzheimer's and caregivers. She would also like to continue her education by obtaining her doctorate in geriatrics.

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My oldest brother (Mom's oldest son) is gone and the other night she cried uncontrollably when I answered her that he is gone. I won't do it again. He was a farmer and mostly I tell her that he is in the fields. Five minutes later, she doesn't remember - so it isn't worth making my mom grieve a very heavy burden. I know that he understands, and I'm sure he cannot wait to wrap his giant arms around her. I have to join her world and it can be stressful, but overall these types of stories matter very little.
Hi Acrates, I agree, I think how awful that feeling must be for them to feel abandoned and not understand why. When my dad asks for his wife (my mom) or expresses concern that she is alone and he should be there, I tell him "oh, she's not alone, she's being well taken care of, and someone is with her all the time". Sometimes this alone will calm him and he'll say "oh, I'm glad to hear that"). Sometimes I'll use the weather (if it's raining out) to say "your mom and dad were coming over today, but decided the rain made it too bad to drive". My dad will then say "oh good, I wouldn't want them driving in this weather". There really is no way to allay their fears permanently, so if what you're saying to him works, even if only for the moment, keep using that tactic. At first, I always tried to come up with a new response until it finally dawned on me that I could keep using the same 2 or 3 answers that worked the best over and over. My dad also loves hard candy peppermints and chocolate, so I always have some on hand to offer him.
As far as putting him on an anti-psychotic drug, it could be worth a try, but it didn't really work with my dad, it only made him sleepy or unsteady on his feet, or else he would tell me "that something was just not right in his head, that it felt fuzzy", and he was still just as confused. My dad did start taking a low doze of Zoloft in the morning, and while the questions/concerns still persist, it has taken the edge off of his anxiety.

So sorry you're going through this, it really does suck.
Hi Seastar, your Mom sounds like she's in a similar stage to my Dad by what she says. I still address him as "Dad" and he immediately responds, but the connection that I'm his daughter is gone 99% of the time. Right now sitting next to me in the living room, he turned to me and said "do you know where the deal is for someone like me to go?" I said "I sure do, follow me", and then led him down the hall to the bathroom.
My dad will also tell me that he had lunch with his mom, or that his brother (deceased long ago) stopped by to see him (I'll have to remember to say 'sorry I missed them'). If I ask my dad when he was born, he'll tell me the exact date, but if I ask him his age, it's anywhere from 51 to 70-something (LOL - he's almost 94!). We talk a lot about his time in the Navy during WWII as he can remember that time so well. (I'm still trying to get him to tell me some stories re: his onshore leaves, but he always tells me "oh no, those aren't any stories for a young lady like you to hear" and we laugh, me especially since I'm almost 60.

We all need to hang in there, go with the flow, laugh as much as we can and enjoy the time we have left with our loved ones.