Q: I am caring for my 81-year-old mother who lives with me. She is very controlling, wants to rule my life, and treats me like I’m still a teenager. Pointing this out to her doesn’t seem to do any good. What can I do?

A: Hummm… you know, since pointing it out to your mom makes no difference, I wonder if her short-term memory isn't working—which is a clear warning sign of dementia. Realize that by the age of 85 nearly 50% of all elders have dementia (Alzheimer's is one type making up 65%), so it sounds likely that this is starting to happen.

Also, understand that dementia starts sloooowly and develops over many years. I'd get her evaluated for by a neurologist specialized in dementia ASAP. You can find one by calling the Alzheimer's Association (800-272-3900) and asking who they recommend there. If she does have dementia, the doctor will treat her with medication (Aricept, Exelon, Razadyne, Namenda) to slow the progression of the disease. Many doctors also treat dementia patients with an anti-depressant, which smoothes out moods and may also reduce the negative focus on you.

But, if she is sharp as a tack and doesn't have dementia (or is in the very early stage), you can start setting some boundaries and use behavior modification. I did this with my elderly father and it was so effective I just had to write a book about it: "Elder Rage". First you need the "Jacqueline Marcell Emotional Shield", so there, I give it to you. Put that on every day and then don't let anything she says bother you, really, all negativity has to bounce right off you. Then after she makes a nasty comment calmly say, "Oh Mom, I love you, but that wasn't very nice to say. You know, when you are ready to talk nicely to me—I'll be back". And then just leave the room. No arguing, no yelling, no attitude, just set your boundary EVERY time. If you do this enough, she'll start to get it. And then most importantly, when she is being nice to you, be sure to acknowledge it, give compliments, throw in a gentle touch, hug or kiss—and you will be sure to get lots more of that behavior.

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