Caring for mother-in-law while her son and wife are on vacation. She is confused, thinks they left her. Any advice?


My mother in law lives with her youngest son in one state, my husband, her oldest son, live in another state. My husbands brother and his wife are taking a much needed vacation for a week or two-she's staying with us for 2 1/2 weeks. She just found out that they went on vacation without her and is very hurt and upset. The kicker is that she is confused about her relationship with that son.
She believes that they are close friends (no dating or anything she says) but she can't believe he didn't tell her they were going on vacation. Is somewhat muddled about who she thinks his wife is.
Besides her obvious dementia/Alzheimer's problem, she is incontinent to the point of not even being aware when she is wet. Getting her to I change is a battle in itself.
We don't know how to handle her obvious distress. I thought she would forget about it after sleeping, but she says she didn't get any sleep last night and doesn't know where she's going to live now.
I can't convince her that she will be going "home" in a couple of weeks when her son returns. I haven't even tried to correct her altered reality, as she gets very upset and argumentative when we try to correct her.
I've tried to redirect her, but she just wants to sit on the sofa and sniffle and comment on her lack of friends or place to go.

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To all - thanks for the suggestions. We've tried some of them and she seems calmer this evening. I hope all is forgotten in the morning with a good night's sleep. This was very eye opening for my husband. He gently probed her memory of people she knew and how she knew them. He knew her short term memory was shot, but didn't realize to what extent she has lost her memory of her relationships with her family.
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I guess I should clarify my little tale above about Mom and her thinking. She has a lovely bedroom with attached full bathroom where she has slept when visiting for the 20 plus years we have lived in this house. Now it's her permanent bedroom. She has plenty of clean clothes, and I take the dirty ones to the laundry room after she has gone to bed. I think that she doesn't recognize that her clothes are behind closed doors in the closet and in drawers in the chest. And since she doesn't have any of the same clothes she came here with, she may not recognize them as hers anyway. For all I know, she may think she is borrowing clothes everyday. I hadn't thought about that before, but it just hit me. Over the years, due to changes in size and needs, her entire wardrobe has changed.
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The kudos go to my brother-in-law and his wife. When they said they wanted to take her in, we tried to give them a realistic picture of what they may be up against, as my sister did the same for my mother and couldn't deal with it after a couple of years. My Moms issues were more physical than mental. Caregivers are VERY special people, those who do it out of love and those who do it out of necessity!
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Could you try telling her that she IS on vacation at your house, and that your sons arranged this for her so that she wouldn't have to sit uncomfortably in the car for long periods? And that they made specific arrangements so she would have time with you so you could do things together?

If you can spin the story so that she feels they made special plans for her, it might ease her anxiety but also boost her sense of being wanted rather than being alone.

Jeanne makes some good suggestions at redirection, and TX makes some equally good suggestions for making her visit a special time to remember. If you have a camera (and not everyone does these days), take some photos of her and show them to her, or get someone to take photos of the two of you.

Print them out and create a special memories album for her to take home when she leaves.
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Oh, by the way, before I hit send I meant to say that I think you are very special people to give your inlaws respite so they can vacation. Kudos to you.
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MIL has lived with us for years and nearly every day she thinks she is just visiting. At night she asks if we have a bed she can sleep in. Sometimes she'll ask if I have a gown she can borrow. She carefully folds her worn clothing to be worn again the next day because she didn't bring any other clothes to wear.

The decline of the brain is a mysterious thing.

Just reassure her that she's safe and that she'll be going home soon, after her visit with you. Telling her that her son that she lives with is gone may make her feel abandoned. I'd just make her think that she is just visiting you and her other son on vacation. Try to do special things that might relate to a vacation. Sit outside and eat a popsicle. That kind of thing. If you can get out, go to a museum or to a playground and watch the children play. The zoo is usually popular. The aquarium might be good, too. Just one day at a time, and it'll soon be time for her to go home and you'll be wiser to what the inlaws go through every day.
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You are doing fine. You'll get through these next two weeks.

The confusion about who her son is is not rare. My mother calls me by name when I visit and tells people I am her daughter, but sometimes she slips and calls me by her sister's name. After all, how can she have a daughter with gray hair -- she doesn't have gray herself yet! (Thanks to the on-site beauty parlor.) Both your MIL and my mom know the person is good and kind and they can trust us. If the exact relationship gets a little fuzzy, that isn't critical. Be glad she knows she isn't dating him!

You are right not to try to correct her. That gets nowhere and is upsetting. You have to be careful even with explaining things, but that might go over better.

"Young people sometimes need time to themselves. When you were young, what was your favorite vacation?"

"I don't know if you've noticed, but your friend Jim has been getting a little forgetful lately. Nothing serious, but a few little mixups. I'll bet he thought he did tell you. I know he wouldn't have deliberately distressed you. He likes you very much!"

"Jim and Mary will be back at their house in 13 days, and you will go back there, too. Shall we mark the days on the calendar each morning so you can see how soon you'll all be back together?"

"We've got 9 more days before you return to Jim's house. What shall we do with them? The big department store is having a flower show. Does that sound fun?"

You're doing the best you can, and you are providing an awesome break for her fulltime caregivers. Don't stress about not being perfect. Ain't possible.
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