Misplaced identity and "skeletons in the closet."

Started by

I mentioned this issue a while back on another discussion but thought I'd elaborate and see if anyone has any suggestions for me.

Mom is in assisted living now for about a month. She adjusted moderately well with a few bumps. Mom gets my identity mostly incorrect when I visit her although there a few times where she did get my name and relationship correct. Lately, I've become her husband (my dad, who passed on 7 years ago) although I've been her brother and both of her sons at various times.

The visit usually begins well, we chat, visit the birds, walk to the patio and sit. As time passes and I tell her it's time for me to go to work (I work the night shift) she gets angry and tells me I'm leaving to see other women! The pleasant visit usually ends with her being angry at me and me feeling like hell.. Now for the "skeletons"...my mom and dad had some marital issues back in the late 1960's. I can remember the arguments as a kid. I assume that she is returning to this time. I suppose I now resemble my dad. I wish she would recognize me as her son..maybe this won't happen. I visit everyday in the evening (perhaps sundowning) for 2 hours or so. Maybe I should visit earlier in the day or shorten the visit? Anyone had a similar situation and how did you work through it? I appreciate your responses and thank you in advance!


Wow, what a heartbreaker! This is so sad, both for her, to be reliving something so upsetting, and for you! I don't have an answer, but I do want to offer a hug.

I wonder if "working evenings" was an issue in her marriage? Would it help to say, "I have to leave now to do some shopping." Just a thought ...

Perhaps the "skeleton" part of the situation will resolve itself when she enters a different period in her memory bank, maybe one prior to the martial conflicts.

Do your schedules work out such that you could conveniently have breakfast with her, after work? Is she typically better in the morning?

I have no experience with this, and my heart goes out to you. Please let us know what you try and how/if it works. We learn from each other.
rsanford, I agree on the sundowners idea, that sure doesn't help I know. And Jeanne's right, is telling your mom you're going off to work be the trigger that sends her into a tizzy? If you could say something to her that sets you apart totally from your dad, on your way out the door that might help. In fact, you might make a joke about your having to leave by telling her that you have to clean out the lion cage, or climb Mt Everest or something silly, to make her laugh before you walk out the door. And as far as the 'skeletons' are concerned, that was your folks business and issues in their marriage. Anyone who's married has issues to some degree, so forget it. Water under the bridge I figure.
Thanks everyone for your comments, I will rethink my exit strategy. Actually tonight went a little a better. She again accused me of "seeing other women" but this time I said no, I'd never do that. I told her I call her from work many times during the night but she was asleep and the staff didn't want to wake her..the staff went along with me which actually made her feel better. Also, I plan to visit an hour before her lunch. THanks again.
I don't know if this is a good idea for you, but sometimes I refer to myself as "your daughter" when I'm visiting my dad. Normally I hate to hear athletes and other celebrity types refer to themselves in the third person, but it seems to keep him from confusing me with the staff or whoever he may be inclined to think I am. Our loved ones are all at different stages so I know this won't work for everyone. I wish you the best.
I know how you feel. I moved in with my mother, literally in another country. 4 months ago to take care of her, because there were no other options for her. I left everything behind, though I hope to return when I get a caregiver for her. Through these months, calling her Mom & her answering to it, and her calling me by my name, she still will not believe that I'm her daughter. No matter the time of day, she will even remember where "her daughter, Ann" lives, and yet when I say, "I AM your daughter. That's where I lived," she will say, "No, my DAUGHTER." Then she'll ask "Who is your family? What high school did you go to? Did I know you then?" Does not matter what I answer, she will not believe me. When pressed, she says her daughter "is a little kid with pigtails". Gets to me, but there's no changing it, so I've given up on it. That's just where she's at now. At least I'll feel a little less guilty when I have to leave eventually.
I live far from my mother who is also in Assisted Living. When I call her on the phone, I say "hi Mom, how are you?" and she knows it's me. I visited with her in May and she didn't know who I was, she kept thinking that I was my sister-in-law. I visited with her last week and it was the same thing. I am out of context for her now as she normally interacts with me on the phone. What I started to do this visit was to always interject mom, even in the midst of a conversation. "Yes, mom it's a lovely day out".... and so on. This helped her to stay on top of who she was speaking with, like a constant reminder.
Interestingly enough, she asked about her wedding album and I brought it to her. She and my father had a messy, messy break-up and bad relationship afterward. She had a tremendous amount of hurt and animosity toward him. Yet when looking at the photo album this time, her attitude was different. It was as if she forgot all of the heartache and torment she went through with him. I was amazed at her new found attitude. Perhaps your mom will forget those past hurts some day as well. This is the one bright side of dementia, the memories fade (both good and bad) but we can always remind our loved ones of the good memories. The bad ones can disappear and bring peace.
What I learned from the hospice visitor is that the best you can do is make the patient as comfortable as possible. I take this to mean physically and emotionally.
It's not unusual to be thought of as someone else. The other evening my wife asked me where her husband was . . . and we've been married for 59 years. It's very sad, but then dementia is sad. You have to remind yourself that you are not dealing with the same person you once knew. I keep my composure by keeping that fact in mind. It doesn't stop the occasional tear, but I recognize that I can't change the situation. And there are times when the real person surfaces for a brief period. Those moments and great memories help me remain compassionate and sympathetic most of the time.

Peace be with you.
Dementia/Alzheimer's disease is a constant downward spiral. Having seen it many times with various different people in my life and the various different stages; not even one has been easy as our loved ones slip further and further away.
Oops! I hit the wrong button. There is a book I'd like to recommend that everyone read that has a loved one going through this situation. It's an easy read, and easily found on Amazon and most retail outlets; it's "The 36 Day" by Nancy Mace. It explains and gives suggestions of how to deal with each stage. It has certainly helped me with my father and others. Best of luck to you and everyone else during these trying times.
My mom almost never knows who I am. I live with her~ I do think most people with dementia do better earlier in the day... Perhaps if you came at the end of your shift, instead of before your shift? That would change the "time" issue for "cheating" as well as maybe miss some of the sundowners. ??? Worth a try. I worked nights, so I know what you are working with. Makes it hard to have normal visiting hours.... Hope this helps. It is hard. I have so many identities!! I am mom (to my mom), sister (She NEVER even had a sister???) I am all of my sisters, friends I have never even heard of, some I have... ?? Hard to know what is going through her mind. I am a stranger a lot of the time... sometimes she has no clue, but doesn't like me, sometimes no clue but loves me... It is such a complex disease.

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