Unable to communicate effectively with old parent.

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Hi,

My mother is 70 year old. Over last 5 years we have noticed strange decline in her ability to listen to what we are saying. There is no problem with her hearing. She hears correctly but will answer to some other question which was never asked. She does that only when she makes a mistake and when defending herself, will give a different answer altogether. Also, she sleeps a lot. 4-5 hrs daily in the day. She talks a lot to herself. Keeps on repeating things at times. There are certain habits of her which we want her to change. She will listen to us and tell us she wont do it again but right after 30 minutes, she will be doing the same thing again. I do not know if this is a problem on her side or on our side in handling the situation. I need some advice on how to go about it. If we need some medical assistance, who do we approach? What kind of doctor or therapist?

Thanks.

9 Comments

I don't think there is anything wrong with her hearing, but it does sound like Alz/dememtia.... Please take her to her Dr. for an evaluation, and tell them the same things you told us... and please try to educate yourself on Alz/dememtia as letting her know there are things you want her to change, which she can not do. only stresses her more.... and at 70 I would think ya'll would be the ones adapting to her, not having her change.... and a good possiblity with her sleeping that much during the day, she may be depressed.. please get her to a Dr and let us know how she is doing... tell her a stranger is praying for her....
I did think about that but she is able to do almost every work on herself. She goes for walks, she can cook, she can read and understand whats going on. There is no memory loss for her. She remembers things. Only problem is her listening. For eg. she loves cleaning the utensils but we have a maid which comes everyday to do that only. However, she still would clean all the utensils herself. We keep asking her not to do it and she will promise she wont. But after an hour, she will be doing it again. These and some other on similar lines r the problems I am facing. I am trying to find good doctor for her which will take some time and in meantime, I am already trying to learn as much as possible on net. I know she cannot change at her age and it will be us who will have to accommodate but I do want to know what is causing all this.
I suggest a geriatrician -- a doctor who specializes in care of the elderly, just as pediatricians specialize in care of children.

She says she won't clean the utensils but then she does it. Has she perhaps forgetten that you discussed this and she agreed to leave it for the maid? Are there other examples that might reflect a memory problem?

Is she being passive-aggressive? Tell them yes but do no?

Is this a power struggle? She'll show you that you can't tell her what to do?

My bet is on failing memory, but consider all possibilities.

About this particular example ... does she do the cleaning well enough that you could simply allow her to do it, and skip the utensils maid? Or, if she doesn't do such a good job, is there any harm in letting her do it and having the maid to it over? Why has this gotten to be an issue?

There are many aspects to memory loss. For example, in my husband's case he has the most trouble with taking the information in -- with "attending" to the message. It isn't that he isn't paying attention in the usual sense ... he is not ignoring me or reading the paper or watching tv while I'm trying to tell him something, it is that the receptors in his brain are just not working in a way that the message will be retrievable later. This is part of his dementia. In other ways his memory is better than mine! Sometimes he reminds me of things and I say, "Hey, which one of us has dementia, anyway?!" Not all kinds of dementia have the same kinds or degree of memory loss.

People in early stage dementia can often go for walks, cook, read, and remember at least some kinds of things. I'm not saying Mom has dementia, but that it is a possibility, in spite of her general competency.

Sometimes my husband appears to be answering a different question than was asked. If I'm patient and willing to play detective I can almost always connect the dots from what was asked to what that reminded him of to what he answered. There is a link ... it is just hidden!

I hope you find a good doctor and that starts the process of explaining some of her behavior.

Meanwhile, don't sweat the small stuff. Try not to fret over things that don't really matter.
There is no 'one size fits all" with memory problems.... It is a varied and complex as the individual who has it... for instance... I can leave the room, come back in, and S has seen me for the first time that day.... but can remember how to dress himself... not everyday, but most days...doesn't recognize the toilet, but knows a bowl of chocolat ice cream set in front of him and he is roughly in stage 6 of Alz.. so getting her to a realiable geriatrtician is the first step..... and you will learn to pick your battles and you will also learn more about yourself than you ever wanted to know..... blessings to you and your family....
Don't try and second guess. Talking to her doctors is the best possible source of information. Has anyone in the family become her designated health care proxy? If not, download the forms from the internet, discuss it with you mother and have them signed. This entitles you to call her doctors and get information from, as well as be part of the health care decision making process. FYI, each sate has different forms/rules.
We don't want to admit that our parents, who have always been there for us, now need our help and, like us in our teens, don't want any help from us! I hate to even say this, but denial on the part of children is the biggest hurdle for parents developing dementia (I know this from personal experience and professional as well). Dementia patients live in the present, and maybe the far distant past, and the beginnings of dementia are hard to define. It sounds like your problems are just beginning. Get to an attorney first and get financial and estate issues settled before an official diagnosis. Remember that our loved ones' health and safety are the most important issues. Protect her finances, protect her physical and mental health as much as you can. As Dr. Daniel Potts says, "Enter her world, don't try to drag her into yours."
You might want to try a book which I highly recommend - "How to Say it to Seniors" by geriatric psychology expert David Solie. He talks about typical communication blocks many experience with the elderly and gives some great insight. Also gives lots of suggestions. An easy read with lots of good examples. Might be worth trying it out Good luck!
This must be a difficult time for you. I have found that my Mother does what she wants to do or what she has done all her life. I try to suggest an easier way of doing things but after 92 years she is not going to change. What is hard is that she constantly worries and is very negative. I took her clothes shopping last week and after 10 minutes or so she said "We're not gonna find anything here."
She does not understand the power of positive thinking.
As our parents age, many know that they are not the same as they used to be and can't do the things they used to do, and that deeply hurts and scares them.
So a lot of your Mom's behaviors can be caused by fear, unhappiness with how they feel, and maybe embarrassed that others have to help them. As others have suggested, have your Mom see a Geriatric Specialist is the first thing you need to do. Make sure her finances are in order, I suggest an Eldercare attorney to set up a trust with her assets but not in her name. Maybe the kid's names. You need to do this while she is still competent to make decisions. If you have the trust for a long enough time, Medicare/Medicaid can't take away her assets. Each state law is different. Instead of your Mom changing her habits,unless they are dangerous, you may need to react in a different way. It is this change in our parents that is so hard to accept, but it is necessary for our health. I know, I get so mad at Mom every time I talk to her, but I can't let it bother me.
Belonging to this group is so comforting, just knowing that others are going through the same or similar situations and hearing how they deal with it. Good Visit the Alzheimers Assn. website, www.alz.org -for lots of helpful tips and information. Good luck to you.
For last few weeks, I been busy with doctors so couldnt check on here. Thanks all for your help and inputs. I really appreciate it.

The doctor took my mom's organicity test which lasted for 3 hours. I made sure I was part of that test because I wanted to know what will they ask her. And I was surprised that the test was not tailored for her age or her level of education. Lot of questions were mathematical. Some involved jig saw puzzles, drawing, memory tests. She passed majority of simple questions questions but couldnt do more complex problems. Then there were other questions like what is country population or why we give income tax. I dont know how do such questions help in diagnosing her problems. In India, majority of people in her age wont have clue to such questions. I felt like the doctor was cut-off from the reality and was just going by his theoretical knowledge.

Anyways, after 3 hours of test, the report I got said - she scored 24 and the cut-off point of organicity is 20 so she kind of passed. And below that it just said - She was unable to answer simple questions or solve complex problems. That really made me furious.

We also got her brain MRI done and found some sort of blockage in couple of vessels. Her medication for that has started. The neurologist who saw her suspects dementia and wants ACER test done. That test will be done today.

In all of this, I kept wondering - does it takes all of single test to diagnose dementia? Shouldnt there be more tests and shouldn't be tests be tailored on how the individual has spend her life?

As for other things, her finances r in order. I am not worried about that all.

Out of all this, we found out one thing for sure - her self esteem is very low because of which she now asks us a lot before she has to do something. We have trying out best to let her know that she can take most of her decisions by herself and there is no need to ask us. She is free to do anything not fearing the outcome. I would appreciate some advice on how I can do more to bring her self esteem up.

I also need some inputs on what all kinds of tests are there to diagnose such symptoms. I am not trying to second guess but I also want to educate myself as much as possible.

This group has been very helpful and comforting. Last few weeks have been very difficult for me, especially to see my mother going through those tests, trying to solve puzzles and think of answers. It broke my heart many times but I knew I had to be strong and keep going. There is no other way. It will take some for me to detach myself from this emotionally so that it doesn't bothers me this much and I start taking it as part of life.

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