Help! My Dad thinks I am his wife!

Started by

My dad came to live with us (myself, my husband & 23 yr old son) 5 months ago, after my mom passed away. He is 84 and in mid to late stage of AD. The last 6 weeks or so, my dad slips into a delusion in which he thinks I am his wife. This usually happens in the evening, during his Sundowning period. Try as we might, we cannot get him to understand that I am his daughter. He thinks this is "our" home and that my husband and son are visitors. Usually around 9pm, he starts trying to kick them out. He gets very agitated when we try to explain that we all live here. He accuses me of taking in boarders without asking him first. When I've tried to explain who we all are, he will sometimes think that my husband is my first husband but I have divorced him and am now with married to him. He can't understand why I would welcome my ex into our home. He gets mad at me when I won't go to bed with him or gets up several times to see why I haven't come to bed yet. We have even had a few nights where he actually cries because he thinks I am either mad at him or sleeping with another man. My husband has been a good sport about this, sometimes sitting out in the garage until after Dad has fallen asleep. But it is now cold out and I don't expect my husband to give up his home in order to keep Dad calm. My son has also been very good to his grandpa, but it is hurtful when he says mean things to them and acts as though he has never seen them in his life. They understand that this is the illness, but it doesn't mean it doesn't hurt them. I am no longer bothered by the fact that Dad doesn't recognize me. I can accept that he doesn't know I'm his daughter. And if he thought I were a nurse or his sister or mother, I could play along. But we are at a loss as to how to handle this. We cannot live in his reality and play into this storyline! This is definitely not one of the things that any of us anticipated having to deal with. Has anyone else had this problem? Any suggestions for us?

39 Comments

Your dad sounds extreme compared to my mom. She is 92 and I have to tell her I am her daughter about 30 times a day. If I were in your situation, I would not keep up a farce, like husband hiding in garage until dad goes to sleep, just reinforce who you all are and let it go. Also have a doctor check his medication, maybe something could help this. Sundowners? Is that a real thing, because my mom gets mean in the evening, I never know what sets her off and I actually call it the sundown meanies. My mom doesn't allow anyone over, but it isn't her choice so I let family come and visit, she hates it and stomps off, then starts saying mean things to them to make them leave. We just sort of ignore it. It's hard because sometimes she says very hateful things, but you have to let it roll off your shoulders, otherwise it makes you bitter and angry all the time.
You can try finding a picture of you when you were young. Put it onto a card to make into a badge to wear. Underneath it put " I am ______ " If he had a special pet name for you when you were young, you can put that onto it. The older memories are the last to go, that's why older children are often not recognized. If you remotely have features of your mom, he will assume you are her. That is also why in nursing homes they frequently put pictures of the person and his/her family from long ago on their doors. If they leave the room, they can find their way back by looking for the old picture that they are familiar with. It probably won't help with your husband's issue, but if it gets dad to stop believing you are mom, then he will probably not see your husband as a rival anymore. Worth a try.
If this weren't so tragic, it would be funny. My suggestion? Stop trying to be 'rational' to someone who has lost all sense of logic. It will only make you go crazy. Now this might seem extreme, but try a totally different approach where you can reason with him in his own 'reality.' Suggest that you no longer want to be his wife and that as such, it's best if you just keep a friendship going, but absolutely nothing more. See if that approach works. You have nothing to lose.
He probably doesn't remember what you have told him from one night to the next, so I would work on finding a short refrain that you could use every night that gets him to bed with the least amount of stress. I would say "Daddy it's time to go to bed, let me know when you've changed and I'll tuck you in." or something more blunt like "Daddy, I'm your daughter, momma's dead and it's time for you to go to bed." Explanations will just confuse them more. If he wants to know abut the other people tell they're family.
I just have my mother, so I haven't experienced what you are going through, but mom has forgotten many family members. We keep a picture on the wall of my father, and mom will point to it say do you who that is (like she's quizzing me) and I'll say that's you're husband and my daddy. I used the above night time routine with my mom, I'd say it was time to go to bed, she'd crack her door and tell me she was ready (when she had her night gown on). I'd give her her meds, help her into bed, tell her I loved her, kiss her goodnight and turn off the light. She liked the routine and started just getting up and saying "I'm going to bed and I'd say okay let me know when you're ready for me to tuck you in." Kind of role reversal. Good luck to you, my advice is keep it simple.
Yikes! It IS terrible but there is some humor here too. Seriously, what I have heard about dealing with advanced AZ is to go along rather than try to explain but you simply can't do that here! Is a nursing home an option at all? It may sound harsh and make you feel guilty to consider that, but this - if it doesn't end - is too much to have any semblance of normal life with.
"Marriages" often form in care facilities between two people who think they are each other's spouses and it 'works' for them. Often it is painful for a living spouse who diligently cares for and visits the AZ patient, but there is an interdependence for the patients that does offer comfort. Perhaps having him somewhere close by where you can monitor his care and visit him would really be, in this case, the best thing. Anger is or can be a huge issue with AZ patients. I think your marriage has to come first and it sounds like you have a very good husband. God bless you both.
I agree with frustrated2. Your father needs to be in a nursing home/memory care facility. You may be praised for being a 'saint' to care for your father and push your husband out to the garage every night-I don't know what your son does. People who live with 'saints' become martyrs. Your husband and son's hearts and minds are intact. They know what is going on, even if Dad doesn't. What a horrible way for them to live. My Mom put my Dad through it with her Mom. She sat in a recliner in the living room moaning. He started staying in the basement to do his woodworking rather than have to sit and put up with it after coming home from work. Grandma came first. Always. My post will probably be deleted, but so be it. I am a caregiver now for my Mom. She is still able to talk and can get around with a walker. She refuses to consider leaving her huge home. I will never put my kids and grandkids through what my Mom put us through. No loving mother or father would want their child to. Your husband and son need to come first. You may think everything is fine with Dad in the living room and husband in the garage. My mother always did. Dad wanted to leave, but kept his vows. I found him crying more than once. Dad needs to move out. Your husband may forgive you, but he will never forget it. Dad will never remember. Time to get your priorities straight.
My mom does the same thing on occasion (I'm her daughter!), but I just tell her, hey, I'm a girl, and I just like boys. That usually stops her and she just looks perplexed, but last night I had a hard time de-railing her. She just looked hurt and like I was crazy, and sat there pouting for quite a while, until I asked her if she would like a bowl of ice cream. That usually brightens her up and can often distract her from an obsession and break whatever negative mood she is in, at least for a while. However, last night when she was done with her ice cream, she came back to insisting that I go to bed with her, and I told her I wanted to watch the end of the tv program I was watching. She stomped off to bed and I breathed a sigh of relief. Mad is better than amorous! Sometimes when I can't get her off a track she is driving me crazy with, I finally resort to locking myself in the bathroom for a while. When I come out she usually has dropped it and is just glad to see me again.

Is there something you can distract your dad with - a favorite food or activity? It sounds like your father's "obsession" (for lack of a better word) is currently very intense, so it would probably be hard to just distract him, but it's worth a try. If that doesn't work, you might try buying into his "reality" and devise a "story" of your own that fits into his reality without meeting what he expects of you. Did your mother have any sisters? You could use a "therapeutic lie" - tell him his wife is away visiting her mother, and you are her sister who looks a lot like her, come to visit and look after him while his wife is away, and his wife would be very upset if you went along with him. If she didn't have any sisters, you could be her aunt or cousin. Your husband and son could be "visitors" like he believes, and they are having car trouble and need to stay the night. If he accepts that, you could use the same story every night. If not, they might have some more urgent need, like they are staying with us while their mother is in the hospital, so they won't be alone at a time like this and they can visit her more because the hospital is nearby, and they live far away.

How long has this particular situation been going on? It might fade away over time, or be replaced with a different theme. My mom had a bizarre fantasy when I first moved in with her. She told me that she was taking a walk recently and was suddenly surrounded by a bunch of teenage boys and felt terrified. This boy who she said lived across the street (i never saw any teenage boy anywhere on our street) came along and rescued her and kissed her very romantically, and the other boys all mocked him and she walked away and came home. She had that one for several months and always wanted to go over to his house and try to find out what was going on between them, and was terrified that those other boys were hanging around and would attack her. I was new to this whole thing, and tried to use logic to change her thinking, with no success. I think the only thing that helped was to look around the house and out on the street and show her there was no one there, and that I would protect her if anyone tried to hurt her. The whole theme just eventually faded away, I think it was replaced with another one, like, out of the blue, "are you ready to go? we are going to be late for work!", or, "we have to go to that place, they're waiting for us!" and pacing around the house till I finally got "ready", and we would go out to the car, and as soon as we got in, or after we had been driving around for a few blocks", she would say, "Where do you want to go?" This would happen a couple of times a day, sometimes we would get home and eat lunch and then she would say, "Are you ready to go?" and drove me crazy because I couldn't get much done, and she would become hateful if she didn't get her way right away, and pace from door to door, banging and kicking the doors and asking me to help her open them (I had "childproofed" the house so she could pace around the house and the backyard but couldn't get out on the street and wander away and get lost) over and over again, sometimes all day, if there was something I had to do and couldn't leave the house all day (those were HELLISH days) but in general it was a relief from her other fantasy. Then that was replaced with a similar one, wanting to go home to be with her mother and father. I tried again to use logic (they would be 130 and 140 years old if they were still alive) but she would just get angry and tell me I was lying, or if she believed me, the grief and gut-wrenching sobbing that she experienced was as strong as if it had just happened, and it just tore me apart. That's when I started thinking of "lies" that were better than all that pain. I began telling her that her parents were on a long driving trip to Mexico to revisit all the places and people they used to see when they went on trips there before. She would be disappointed but happy for them because they were having such a good time. That worked for months, until she INVENTED up a whole new set of parents! She began telling me that she wasn't talking about THOSE parents, she wanted to go see her "OTHER parents". Telling her that no one has four parents did no good (when will I learn!). The only thing that placated her would be to drive her around a while, "looking for her parents' house" and she had to give me directions because I didn't know where they live, which usually only lasted for a few blocks before she either forgot why we were driving around or could not give me any more directions, at which point we would just keep driving around enjoying the scenery, or go out to eat or to a movie (we have two good "one dollar" theaters in the area, so we can do this a couple times a week) or we would go grocery shopping or run other errands together. (DUH! I FINALLY figured out that all she really wanted was to get out of the house. I'm a bit of a homebody and enjoy puttering around the house, so it took me a while to figure that one out!).

Ireese mentioned medications. I had pretty much given up on any medication helping, but Mom's doctor added one more, Risperidone, to her other dementia medications and so far it has helped with the mood and agitation and pacing, so we don't have to drive around SEVERAL times a day, and we even don't have to drive around EVERY day, and it is easier to redirect her or distract her.

I guess my point is, it might help you to know that your father's current "obsession", for lack of a better word, might fade with time, or it might morph into something else you can deal with easier, and you might, in the meantime, be able to figure out a "story" that gets around your father's false ideas with a minimum of trauma and arguing, and that helps him to go to bed and gives you and your husband and son some peace as well. And it might help to, as Ireese suggested, to have her doctor adjust or add to whatever medications she is taking now.

Well, mom wants to go "somewhere" now, and has been very patient so far, so I guess I better stop writing now and get up and go! I hope this helps you deal with your very difficult and perplexing dilemma!
Hi, I was just wondering if you could buy a nursing outfit-the scrubs -and wear them around the house as a short term solution until you maybe find a better one. I would tell him you are a nurse. Maybe even wear a name tag. Put your husband and son in doctor scrubs-simple white coats over their clothes -tell him they are his doctors. I am not kidding. It sounds absolutely horrible to have him crying and such and I do not think reasoning with him will help. It may not be a long term solution but may buy you some time. OR you could just have your husband and son wear the scrubs and call them his home health aides so they do not have to hide and you could just keep reminding that your are his daughter. This may sound weird and wacky but sometimes being weird and wacky is the way to go. So sorry you have to deal with this. Life really throws some twists at us doesn't it? Prayers to you and yours!!
Hi, it's me, Kabeeena again. Hey, the scrubs are a great idea, because they would give visual cues to your dad and might not need as many verbal explanations or reminders, which is tiresome for everyone. He might just settle down and go on with his daily routines without bringing up the whole issue again after a while. When I have been out with my mom and she is trying my patience, on occasion someone who sees us interacting and getting frustrated will say to me under their breath, "Try to enjoy her while you have her", sometimes holding back tears themselves, which suggests they were in a similar situation and have lost the parent and wish they could go back and do things differently. And this haunts me during the times when I'm so frustrated or sick of mom's behavior, and I wonder, how can I possibly enjoy her now when she is making me insane? I know I will regret my negative responses and attitudes when she is gone, but it's so hard to be pleasant and positive when she's being so unreasonable and hateful and selfish and demanding, etc., etc., and I'm so grieving watching her lose more and more of herself everyday. But when I can suspend my own grief and try to accept at the current moment who mom is right now, and buy in to her "reality" for a while, it actually is enjoyable, like pretending was when I was a child. I actually enjoy driving around with mom at times like that, even though I know we will never find her parents' house, and it's all just a ruse. We actually have good times and have more to talk about as we observe the world around us, and I feel better knowing that it's helping her to feel better for a while. So, maybe that is a key to "enjoying them while we have them". Having fun with buying into their reality and coming up with creative ways to pretend along with them and make them feel more comfort and peace. Anyway, just some more thoughts. Bless you. Maybe you'll come up with even more creative solutions than the scrubs or a trip to Mexico!
Hi Kabeeena - I am so glad you liked my scrubs idea. I was worried it might seem , er, too weird. I can see where it can backfire but I just thought that maybe it would give some quick peace to a desperate situation. I would even say Clara49 could change from daughter during the day to the "night nurse" that helps him get to bed-maybe helping settle down better to sleep.
I think your pretend time with your Mom is lovely. I think you are bringing much joy to her -and found some for yourself along the way. How wonderful! I take care of my mom for a long weekend a month now ( dementia, brain stem stroke) to give my Dad a break but feel that my care taking is going to be increased due to necessity. I have a child , though, with special needs-she is sixteen with a syndrome pretty similar in nature to Down's so I totally get making up your own normal. Though I do not have to play into a fantasy with her -anymore than any child at her developmental age would require-I certainly find being flexible and creative in my raising of her a very helpful tool.
Blessings

Keep the conversation going (or start a new one)

Please enter your Comment

Ask a Question

Reach thousands of elder care experts and family caregivers
Get answers in 10 minutes or less
Receive personalized caregiving advice and support