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My 82 yr old father came to live us 2 1/2 months ago just before our state went into Covid quarantine. He is a controlling narcissist with a shopping addiction and has mismanaged his meager nest egg, so this was our financial solution. His declining cognition has been documented as mild dementia several years ago and we feel it is rapidly declining since. In a tri-level home, his bedroom, master bath, and a second bedroom "office" is his area. My husband and I are in the lower level, and we all share the kitchen and livingroom on street level. Dad can navigate the stairs fairly ok, but we put in a handrail on the 1 step to the front porch door. He has "fallen" frequently in his own ranch level home, so this was a precaution.
We got him his own full size refrigerator and extra cabinets so we don't get stressed from triple and quadruple purchases of items with his shopping habits. He drives still and we lost the battle of preventing him from going to the store a month ago with many heated arguments. He is a diabetic with an artificial heart valve so he is on quite a bit of medicines.
We have had frequent arguments about him buying even more food for our fridge that end resulted in hurt feelings and even tears from both of us.
Last night was the 3rd time he displayed even more unusual odd behavior and I just don't understand it: We were watching a show on Hulu (Catch 22) that my dad, husband, and self all seemed to enjoy. Toward the end of the episode (my dad is a veteran so the show was a bit emotional for him) he said he needed something upstairs. When he came down the stairs he used his phone as a flashlight (the room had darkened since we started watching the show) instead of turning on the light at the top of the stairs, the livingroom, or the kitchen, as requested by me. He has about 25 pocket flashlights and he has put up nightlights in every outlet including those on the kitchen counters. I asked him to turn the light on and of course he ignored me. He went into the kitchen with his phone light and looked in his refrigerator continuing to ignore me asking him to turn the kitchen light on. It is just so weird. The time before this he did the same thing using a flashlight to go down the stairs and out the door to come back into the house with a new blanket. We moved at least 25 of his blankets and 7 (yes 7) are on his bed which he sleeps on top of instead of between the sheets. He ignored me the last time as well and I turned the porch light and foyer light on as he went out the door and he almost fell when it startled him. Several weeks ago was the 1st instance using a flashlight upstairs while I watched tv in the livingroom around 10pm. The wavering flashlight caught me by surprise, like a cat burgler, and I yelled up the stairs "what are you doing?" He answered looking for something. After about 10 minutes of feeling like there was a burgler in the 2nd bedroom office, I asked him why doesn't just turn on the light. He said, " because I know where it is" and he left the room without retrieving anything.
So, this 3rd episode, I pressed him when he called from the kitchen pulling a Klondike bar from the freezer saying "Do you want a popsicle?" to figure out why he refused to answer me. "No dad," I said when he returned to his chair beside me on the couch. "Why? Why won't you tell me why you can't turn on the light? Why would you risk going down the stairs by flashlight when you're not sure on your feet?" (He shuffles his feet now like Tim Conway, only it's not a joke but neuropathy from extreme diabetes.) He swore at me quite a bit and went back upstairs with his Klondike bar.
I feel like I'm losing touch with common sense. Does anyone have some insight to what need this might fulfill for him? Obviously, if I'm awake and "catch him" going down the stairs in the dark I can turn the light on myself, but he is often up in the middle of the night while I'm sleeping. I could also get battery operated steps lights. But why??!

Does he wear glasses? When's the last time he had a full eye exam, especially given his diabetes? Has he been examined for diabetic retinopathy?

He may be having trouble focusing, may have cataracts, not seeing as well for close-up or farther away vision and a flashlight allows him to direct the light to specific areas.

I think that might particularly apply to the stairs, especially if he has compromised vision. He needs to see each step, perhaps more importantly than the whole staircase, if his near term vision is compromised.

He may also want all the little flashlights to carry with him as needed, again, especially if his vision is compromised. They can fit into a pocket whereas the larger ones can't.

And sometimes older folks don't want to admit that they're having vision problems.

I support Grandma1954's suggestion of contacting the VA. The VA used to provide glasses to qualified Veterans for free; that was several years ago so I don't know if that policy still applies.
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If people are feeling sleepy, a bright light is unpleasant and will wake them up. I have a very low level light in the bathroom for that reason, as well as a soft desk lamp in the kitchen that is all I use if I get up in the night. Could you do some experiments with a very soft motion sensor light?

He may be ‘crazy’, but he may not even realise why he doesn’t like turning on the main light.
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I like the motion sensor idea. Could the bright light bother him? Maybe just put the sensors on the stairs and perhaps that's the only place the "needs" it, for safety. If he's on the same level, maybe it's not a crisis if he uses his beloved flashlight?

Hard to make sense out of WHY people do things and in this case it doesn't really matter. Dementia changes the why.
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MsMarisa May 29, 2020
Thank you so much! He has always been crazy, but we are getting to a new level of irrationality. Thanks for your reply. I need to let go of worrying and try to be more rational myself, but I'm half afraid of his overbearing nature and temper tantrums that might reappear by getting a motion light, as if he will feel he's somehow "losing" the flashlight battle. It is a safety concern though, so I appreciate your input!
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There might be 1 reason or 100. You will never know.
A suggestion though...replace the lights in stairways and hallways with Motion sensor lights so when he, or you step into the area the light will automatically go on. He may "forget" where the light switch is, he maybe thinking he is saving on the electric bill. As I said there could be lots of reasons.
And for your sanity...Forget the Why's of dementia and work with what is going on. Even if you could get an answer to the why the reason might change in the next month.

And...because it is me answering this question...
Have you thought about what the next steps will be if he can no longer handle stairs, and a whole host of other problems? Since he is a Veteran you might want to check with the local Veterans Assistance Commission and see if he qualifies for any help from the VA. He may qualify for a little help or a Whole lot of help. Worth making a phone call!
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MsMarisa May 29, 2020
Yes, thank you! We are hoping to close on his house at the end of the month and we will have to eventually (next year or the next) find a more livable house, but our finances and a new industry job are going to make getting a new mortgage next to impossible for a yr or two. I appreciate the VA advice too! I'll check it out!
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