Grandma always acted like an old lady, so what's due to age, and what's her personality?

Asked by

My grandma has acted like an old lady her whole life. (Cheapness, not trusting strangers, OCD cleaning, fear of wetness and baths, lying to outsiders that she's ok when she's not.) She always bossed her family around and they did everything she wanted. Now she is 95, and wants 24/7 care, hardly sleeps. She doesn't trust doctors and ESPECIALLY not the hospital because she thinks that "when people go to the hospital/nursing home, they die." She wants to die at home.

She has an infected cut on her leg and when I touch 2 inches away from it gently she screams. She won't see a doctor even though she was recommended. I mentioned "If your leg hurts that much, you have to go to the hospital." She SPIT FIRE, talking about how she's not wanted, how she is going to die at home, etc.

She has a dropped cervix so she has to go to the bathroom all the time, but she also won't let the pads get wet fully. She is deathly afraid of water, and she is always trying to clean herself up. BUt she can't so we have to help her. We tell her she worries too much, but she doesn't listen.

Everything we do, like tucking her into bed, has to be done "just right." She gets mad when we don't read her mind as to what she wants us to do.

She also makes REALLY bad financial decisions. She won't put her money in my mother's name. We're afraid she'll change her will if she gets really mad at us. (We get the co-op right now.) When she was young, she advised Grandpa to make bad financial decisions and she was beyond rationalizing.

She doesn't trust outsiders to help her, because she treats them like guests when they come over. She doesn't tell them to do anything, and she just lets them talk to her. They are generally lazy too, and don't object. I don't work either so I am just staying home and doing it myself, and I don't mind. I would like to sleep though. Her behavior seems to get exponentially worse each day. Also it's Christmas so it's not feeling too good.

I haven't reached out for help until now. I would just like some outside perspective on this. And some support from people who understand. Also I'm afraid she'll say we're abusing her and we'll get in trouble.

Just now I told her I didn't need to move a glass on the table 2 inches, and now she's saying I don't deserve a bedroom and she's moving my books off "her" end table because she says it's going to break the table. Do all old people do this? How do I deal?

Answers 1 to 10 of 20
My what a mess you have..... and if she won't go to the dr. then she can't get medical attention for her leg or her ocd..... I'm afraid I 'd have to have a "come to Jesus meeting' with her, she either starts to cooperate or to the nursing home she goes... whether she wants to or not.... she isn't going to change, how long have you been taking care of her??? It amazes me you had any brain cells to post with... let us know how things are, don't know what others will suggest, but sounds like it is past time for a NH..... hugs and prayers to you...

You asked "What's due to age, and what's (due to) her personality?" Well, there's a third very important option, and that is "What's due to her situation?" And that situation is that you and your mother are under peril of being shortchanged by a new will. That puts your grandma in the driver's seat and since "Power corrupts..." it's only natural that she would have those tendencies and also ever-increasingly so. BTW, right now there's a movie on cable called "The Experiment", which deals with this exact subject, except not specifically with "caregivers".

Anyway, IMO it's very likely that most 90+ old ladies would give in to the temptation to use their money to become petty tyrants with their caregiving relatives. I have often wondered if the caregiving books offer any kind of warnings to this effect. I seriously doubt it.
Bookworm, first I'd tell the old lady that when her leg gets infected enough and gangrene sets in, she'll have it amputated, giving her another thing to complain about. Sounds like she has some dementia going on there too, Just what you wanted to hear I know, but it might explain some of the irrational thoughts and being unable to convince her of anything. Or, she could just be a miserably scared woman that knows she's going to die and doesn't know where she's spending eternity. She said herself that people who go to hospitals, die. Either way, she needs a reality check. Take back the control you've surrendered to her, by telling her she'd probably be happier in a 'home' if nothing you do is good enough. I'd say, "Grandma, I can see you're miserable here with me taking care of you, so maybe you'd be happier living in a nursing home or adult foster care or asst. living. So I'm going to start checking around to find a real nice place that you'll be happier living in, other then here". When she starts saying that you don't want her, then strike! Remind her of all the things that you've told us in your post about her complaints, and clear the air. Sounds like YOU are the one that's going to have to throw the window open, so to speak. Sorry.
"Everything we do...has to be done just right. She gets mad when we don't read her mind as to what she wants us to do..." OMG, you just described my mom to a T. When I was a kid, I thought I was the one who just could not measure up, until the day that replacing the salt and pepper set on the table a couple inches out of place got her upset and me yelled at, and yelled at even more when I could not figure out what was "wrong!" A little light went on in my head when she picked up the salt shaker and SLAMMED it down on the table about two or maybe three inches from where I had put it. And when she was in care for the last three years of her life, she was very hard to please; doors had to be open just so far, bed adjusted exactly right to the nearest tenth of a degree or so :-), etc., etc.. It was really a nightmare when she had aphasia and would not be able to say exactly what she meant, but the fault had to be with us and not her! Bottom line - OCD and/or anxiety disorder, which your g-mom and my mom both obviously had, more or less untreated (my mom got a couple of short runs of SSRIs for hers, which helped some, and she was also depression-prone to a degree), is very stressful and very disabling in terms of rational judgement. And if her thinking skills are waning with age and/or early dementia, that will NOT make it any better.

It does not sound likely that you are going to get a POA, but maybe you could get her to go to the doctor "just so we can get some antibiotics and make your leg feel better" but have it actually be a geriatric visit where they can also assess her cognition and competency. It may be hard to decide whether to just continue do your best to please and attend to her, even pre-emptively at times, so her overall anxiety level decreases (I just kind of learned how to "manage" that way with my mom), versus limit-setting; it may help to know where she is cognitively so you can make a realistic assessment of whether she is capable of at least limited insight and behavioral change or not. Guardianship might or might not be a consideration as well - its a big deal and a heavy responsibility, but if she has much more than mild cognitive impairment and you could reduce YOUR worries about her bad decision-making it might be the right move.

There are people who have had abuse complaints called in on them, but usually the social services people who look into these things are fairly savvy. They can see when someone is in fact being taken care of very well. I'd worry a little that they might see an untreated infection as evidence of poor care and G-mom would then most likely absolutely deny that she refused to go to the doctor, but that seems like a long shot, unless G-mom is savvy enough to pick up a phone and figure out how to call Adult Protective Services. Actually, its even pretty common that an infection of any sort makes older people who are already cranky and irrational a lot worse until it clears up.

Her desire to avoid hospitals and stay in her own home is real understandable, and if it is possible to honor that, you probably should! Maybe the home health agency that is supplying the aide-level help would be able to send in a nurse for at least an assessment type of visit and be of some real help without her even having to go out to a doctor's office if you tell them just what you have told us, or could even recommend home hospice (if not now, maybe in the future)? The other thing that helped Mom's worries was having someone pray with her - there were several chaplains who would come around and visit.

I hope you have some blessings this holiday season despite it all, and let me leave you with one more thought... "the EASY problems have all been solved." Whatever your "solutions" might be (which of course may not be solutions at all but really just ways of coping with the problem) I hope you can know you have truly done your best.
Thanks so much for your comments! Ladeeda, I actually have had "come to Jesus" meetings with her. She sometimes asks "Am I going to be like this forever?" and "Is Joe in heaven?" (grandpa) She is catholic, and supposedly prays every day as she falls asleep. I recently became Baptist myself, so I said "If you believe in Jesus, you'll go to heaven." I actually have been reading the bible with her a bit, telling her things like "Do not worry," from Matthew 6:25-34. She agreed with it at the time, but her behavior hasn't changed at all. Also I tell her 'We're all sinners, but we strive to be Christlike. You yell at mom and call her 'pathetic' and you shouldn't do that." She is genuinely shocked, and says "I never said that!"

Ishmael, the "Experiment" movie looks interesting. About the Stanford prison experiment, right? I assume the "power corrupts" is concerning the prison guards abusing the prisoners, right? Yeah, one time my grandmother was about to transfer the money into my mother's name. At the same time, I gave my teenage brother a french horn I had lying around. She got SO mad about that (she really dislikes my brother), that she refused to make the transaction.

Stefans, I think a cognitive test would be good for her, and it is something I haven't thought of before. However, all her savings are in her name. So she would be the one paying for a nursing home. She will not go on her free will, absolutely not. The mere mention of the word sends her into a hyperventilating, screaming fit. I mentioned the cognitive testing to my mother, and she said "Do you want to [accelerate the nursing home process]?" I understand. I am not working, and it is better for me to stay home and take care of her, instead of getting a job and paying for someone to come over. My mother is also very sympathetic, and wants to grant her wishes as much as possible. My mother's attitude is "Let her stay home and fall."

Ok it's 3 hours later, we just had a hullabaloo here.

She's definitely really paranoid. She was saying mom is against her because she was cooking Christmas dinner instead of helping her with Christmas cards. Grandma gave each doorman $10-15 less than she gave them last year, because "they don't do anything." She hardly leaves the house to know the difference. Also one guy she wanted to give $5 instead of $10. We took the envelopes away from her to put more money in, and she got very paranoid. Yes we are doing the money thing behind her back, but it's insane that one guy gets $5 only.

My mother wants her to get medication for the paranoia at this point now, but I said she probably will have to go through "cognitive testing" to rule out other things. Mom didn't like this idea, but it's getting more desperate at this point.

Thanks for your concern and advice; it's good to get other perspectives from people who are in the same situation. We have been going it alone until now.
Why is your mom reluctant to have gma tested??? I would think that would answer so many questions and there are meds available for gma to have a more quallity life......yes she has been this way all her life that you remember, but apparently she has also gone undiagnosded her whole life....
I hope you mom gives this some thought, it's not just about making things easier for you, which is very important , but also for gma to have some quality in her life.....please let us know how things are going...
And glad you took over the money situation.... if she's already upset, what's the worst that can happen... she'll get mad or write you out of the will.... My dad used to threaten me with the last one, I finally told him it wasnt my money anyway it was his, so do what you want.... no more was said.....
hugs to you and go hug gma and tell her a 'stranger' sent that to her.....
People have given you great advice here, so I am just going to relate what I would do in your situation because my mother displays behaviors similar to your grandmother's actions. First of all, legal and moral responsibilities would make me talk to a doctor - my doctor or even one at an ER immediately. You can even call the ER and explain the situation. A priest or chaplain should be willing to help.The wound could put you and your mother's health at risk if it caused by staph.The doctor will probably insist that someone actually see your grandmother and might recommend a hospital stay due to the infection and cervix issues. During that time the doctors and medical staff could observe and help you make decisions. The fact that the law requires you to take care of your grandmother's medical needs if she does not ,absolves you of being the "bad person" in this situation.Tell her you are not making the decisions for your her if/ when your grandmother gets mad. She made them for herself when she refused to get medical help. I am concerned for your health, emotional well-being, as well as your legal position in this situation. Be loving and sympathetic to her at this time because it is normal for her to be afraid of having control taken from her. Someone does need to have POA, though. She is not making rational decisions. Its hard to get the process started, so go talk to someone in a medical position or your pastor ASAP and get some help. They are required by law to report a situation like this. Sometimes people just cannot have their own way. I would want my son to do this for me if I became irrational about decisions. Just keep reminding yourself that there will be questions about possible elder abuse if your grandmother does not get some medical help soon. You will be doing what is needed and what is right for all of you if you talk to a doctor or nurse. Best wishes and keep praying with her. I will be praying for all of you.
Top Answer
Sounds like a manipulative, controlling diva with plenty of emotional blackmail in her arsenal. As the body ages, her true colors become brighter. She reminds me of my mother, who assumed everyone couldn't wait for her to keel over so they could feed on her carcass and divvy up her worldly possessions. Mom relished watching my sisters squabble with each other about who was going to keep what. It made her feel important, deserving of a pedestal with everyone else at her feet.

I sat back and studied her. Under that glass shell there was nothing but a scared little girl starving for attention. ... Always hoping to wake up a man so she could settle all scores; and praying for Beelzebub to take her away from a Hell of her making.

Intriguing creature this mother of mine.
Oh,, its really even worse than you were asking about originally; she really is losing / has lost her judgement. The purpose of cognitive assessment is not to put her in a home - there is no magic diagnosis or score that means you have to go to assisted living or skilled nursing, it is all about what each family can actually manage safely for themselves and the person in need of care. Documenting incapacity may help you in practical ways as well as just being able to realize the severity of what you are dealing with; if the POA is simply never going to be forthcoming and you do have to take the next step of guardianship, for example just to access funds for any kind of care. My mom had always gone overboard on soem shopping, and as her mental faculties got bad, she also got pretty irrational, wanting to buy all kinds of gifts she cuold not afford to give to staff who would get fired if they ever accepted! I was able to just get hold of her QVC card and order only a few little reasonable things instead, or bring her things she'd already bought and forgotten about. Sometimes I felt bad about being sneaky, but it was probably the kindest and gentlest approach, as Mom never wanted to consider herself "confused" (and pretty much never did, despite some pretty wild delusions she developed!

You can respect Grandmom's wishes as far as reasonable and possible, but she clearly cannot be the one in charge and running the show. I'm hoping things will ease up some if she gets her infection treated, but she is not likely cognitively able to develop the insight to really voluntarily change her behavior or connect the dots between spiritual truths and how she should regard and treat other people. She may be able to handle *a little* firm but gentle limit- setting when delivered along with lots of reassurance, i.e. - "Grandma I know you're scared but you HAVE TO have that leg looked at - it does not mean we have to put you in the hospital, you will probably just have to have medicine for it; if you don't at least let someone look at it, "they" will think we don't care about you, and we do!" Please let us know how it all goes!
Thanks so much for the comments.
My mother directs a senior center in Brooklyn. She knows a lot of the seniors there who are very resistant to receiving medical attention. Sometimes, a senior will fall. Then when we (or sometimes the EMT) asks if they want to go to the hospital, they say "no." Then they leave right away. There is one woman who lives alone, even though she can't get out of bed. My mother says these people have every right to do what they want if they have all their marbles. If they want to live alone, or refuse to see the doctor, they have the right to do so.

While my grandmother may make a lot of bad judgments, she really never made good judgment to begin with. She's had these behaviors even as a young person. For example, in regards to finances: My family owned a house in Flushing, which they sold in the mid 80s. My grandfather was going to sell it to a Chinese contractor, when my grandmother stopped him. She said that he should instead sell it to an Italian guy, so that "the neighborhood wouldn't go." As a result, my grandfather sold the house for a very poor price. What happened after that? The Italian guy sold it to a Chinese guy who demolished it. And the neighborhood is Chinese now. She thinks she did the right thing to this day.

It's just very frustrating, her belligerence about her "rightness" is more strident, but the logic is still the same. For example, she is really OCD about house cleaning. She'll ask me to open the window "1 inch" to let some air in. Ok that's no problem. I open it while she watches me. Then she says "No it's too far open, close it a little." Maybe it was 1.5 inches, I don't know, but she watches me close it again.

That's a really little example. Here's a bigger one. Last night, it was 11 PM. She wanted to sort the small laundry bag. She doesn't just say "Sort the laundry for me." She wants to personally manage the affair. It goes like this: "Neesa, get the laundry bag on the shelf." Ok. "Dump it on my bed." Ok. "Give me that." She folds it, or I fold it. "Put it over there." Repeat for every item of clothing. Her rationale for this is that, she has to know where everything is because it's her house. And she herself wants to look for things sometimes so she doesn't want to get confused. It doesn't cross her mind to say "Put the socks here, put the rags here, put the slips here." She only things step by step, one at a time.

To play devil's advocate, let's say she couldn't sort the laundry herself and needed me to do it, and she was justified. However, I was sitting by my computer 2 days ago, and she came into my room. She saw a pile of about 8 books on the end table, and said "Take those books off the end table! You're going to break the table! It's not supposed to carry anything more than a lamp." I said "No I'm not moving them, that's ridiculous. It's a table, it's fine." She said, "That's MY table, you're living in MY house!" And she took the books off herself and put them on the floor. The stack of books weighed over 10 lbs at least. I mean she probably removed a few at a time, but still, she is capable of moving things. Sometimes we get home and there's a basket of fruit moved. She was the only one who could have moved it.

Anyway I got so frustrated last night, and I was already so physically tired, that I walked away after a while and went to bed. I woke up so refreshed, more refreshed than I have been in months. Grandma said to my mom, "Oh, she's so tired because she reads too much, and because she takes that [mental] medication." Mom told her otherwise, but she was not convinced. And when Grandma is not convinced, SHE IS NOT CONVINCED. NEVER. She simply does not even comprehend "cooperation."

The problem is, she has a lot of marbles left. She's not senile. Sometimes, we'll go out and take her to the bank. She dresses herself for that, no problem. She doesn't like going out daily because it takes her about 2 hours to dress herself. Then we take her out, and when we get to the bank, she is all polite and charming to strangers and lets everyone do things for her. One time, the banker actually said to my mom, "Oh she is the sweetest lady I ever have seen! She is so nice!" It's so infuriating. She goes to the doctor, and says nothing is wrong. She likes that, when the doctors tell her nothing is wrong. But when there's a real problem, the doctor is the last place she wants to go.

I think my mom has a point in that, as a senior with a lot of marbles, she still has the right to determine her own affairs. We are still able to leave her home alone for a few hours here and there. She can walk around the house. She can feed herself (although we usually have to get the food out). She can get in and out of bed (although she likes it when I help her). She can answer the phone. She's not entirely helpless. And it is her house, she owns it, we moved in with her in 2004. So I think we really don't have the right to put her in a nursing home with her money that she doesn't want to spend.

Most of the things that we help her with, around the house, are things that are related to her OCD. For example, she gets herself to the bathroom when she has to go, fine. However, she chooses to leave the pad and the paper towels outside, so she always calls us to get it. When we leave it in the bathroom for her, very often she moves it back to her "usual spot where she can find it." Also she has to wrap her used pads with newspaper, but she leaves them on the floor. This makes a lot of extra work for us when she could just throw it in the trash can herself.

Her vision is bad (she has macular degeneration) so we need to dial the phone for her. She can't read anymore. She can't do the things she used to do (crossword puzzles, reading the paper, watching TV) because she doesn't see well. So her only activity of interest now is tidying up and putting things away. But she has always had "her method" of housekeeping, that nobody interfered with. She was the homemaker. She is still trying to maintain these duties when she is not really able to anymore. Nor should she stress herself with these things being done, she's 95. I mean she should really leave it to the younger people and relax. But she can't. This cleaning stuff is what has to do. It is all she understands.

Maybe I shouldn't consider myself a full caretaker, because we don't have the authority to tell her to take her water pill. (She doesn't take it, so the edema makes the cut on her leg worse.) Because she has her marbles. I can't even give her a proper bath because she has to have the shower curtain closed when the water is running, "because the floor will get wet." (She doesn't wash herself sufficiently, she has crust under her arms that's probably about 50 years old.) Nevertheless I feel like a caretaker because I'm exhausted sometimes. And she takes a lot of my attention, and I have to be on call all the time.

Eddie I couldn't agree with you more. I would like her to have a nice relaxed happy life, but she is just making her misery. I love her very much still though.

Share your answer

Please enter your Answer

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