My 85 year old father's depression is worsening as he misses my mother (nursing home). Any suggestions?

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My mother had been sick with Alzheimer's for past 5 years and has been living in a nursing home for the past 2 years. We've noticed lately that after each visit, my father seems more depressed. We've been trying to schedule his visits but he actually forgets seeing her and seems more depressed. He has been seen by his doctor who has ruled out dementia but has said that his forgetfulness is at an expected level for his age. He is very coherent otherwise but has taken on a negative view of everything and despite our coordinated efforts to ensure he has visits with Mom, he doesn't appear to be enjoy the visits. We are doing our best but lately it seems hopeless and we aren't sure whether we should be visiting Mom as much as we are (2-4 times per week) because it may be setting him back. Any suggestions?

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I'm surprised that the doctor didn't suggest that your father may be clinically depressed. His visits to your mom have to be difficult since all he sees is her decline. It's hard enough for adult children to see a parent decline from AD, but for a spouse, it's really dreadful. His forgetfulness may be a type of denial - just his way of handling it.

I'm not suggesting that anti-depressants will help, though they may. However, talk therapy could be truly helpful. While he may not be willing to see a counselor, he could be willing to talk with a spiritual leader. Does he belong to a church or synagogue? Even talking with a good friend may help some. Additionally, it may not be a bad idea for him to see a different doctor. There may be something that could help him medically.

Age, itself, doesn't necessarily mean forgetfulness, and the fact that he's fine except he "forgets" the visits to his wife suggests to me that he must to this to protect himself. Your challenge is to help him find some meaning in his life and better cope with his wife's illness. Don't be hard on yourself, though. There may not be a lot you can do. He simply is having to deal with something too hard for him to handle.

Keep trying to give him some pleasurable experiences, see if he can talk with someone wise enough to help him cope with his pain, and then love him as he is. You could experiment with fewer visits, though be careful not to let him cut himself off, because if your mom dies he may then be angry with himself. Just remember that you can’t fix this for him. He may remain depressed about your mother’s illness, and frankly, why wouldn’t he? What I’m saying is don’t blame yourself if you can’t “make” him happy.

Take care,
Carol
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