I'm about a month into the caregiving role for my grandma-in-law. Her caregiver before me was her son Gary, who was very verbally abusive. He's been in hospice the past couple weeks, but he passed away two days ago. My mother-in-law came over yesterday to tell her Gary died. She was upset of course, no Mother should have to bury her son. This morning she asked me if I heard from Gary. I said no Mammy, he died a couple days ago. I reassure her that she's not alone and that me and her favorite grandson live with her now. She of course was upset again, as if it was the first time she was told this. Is she better off not being told that her son died every d*mn day? Of course she needs to know, and we tell her, but her dementia just doesn't allow her to retain it. Every morning is like a brand new day. My husband and I plan on clearing out Gary's room, repainting it, and making it an art room. Maybe that will be the big tell-all. It breaks my heart to tell her that her son has died everyday. I could use any advice you guys have! Thanks!
So the next time she asks where is Gary, just make up an excuse that he is busy, out-of-town, etc. Otherwise, G-Mom-in-law will grieve everyday as though it was the first time she heard the news.
For a person with any type of dementia every time you tell them about a death it is like they are learning about it for the first time. Imagine having a loved one die everyday.
When she asks about Gary tell her..
He can not come see you today.
He went out for a while
He had a Doctor appointment
He went to the store
He took the car in for service
He is in the bathroom
Any number of things will work.
Once you tell her that Gary is not available right now ask what you can do, change the subject, ask her a question, anything that will deflect the subject from Gary onto something else.
This goes for any other sad, traumatic or disturbing event. Depending on how severe the dementia is I probably would not inform her of another death if something like that happens. It does no good to put her through that even once if she is not going to remember.
My mom at age 86 with moderate dementia did not remember the deaths of her parents. Each time she asked and someone told her the deaths were 15 and 50 years ago she would start the grief process all over again. She also became angry that nobody had told her. These times were very difficult for all.
I suggest getting two copies of the 36-Hour Day. One for MIL and one for you and read them. Discuss what you both have read with MIL. Find a caregiver support group. Read this site.
I hope this situation works out for you, and that you and hubby have regular time away together. Care situations like this are very hard on marriages and you both as individuals.
Clearly it is now firmly in GMIL's mind that there is something afoot to do with Gary. But she cannot retain what that something is.
She has a right to know. It is not wrong to tell her. But she doesn't need to comprehend it all now, this minute, and you don't have to rub her nose in it.
When GMIL asks if you have heard from Gary, you could ask her what made her think of him. Turn it into a conversation about Gary, and encourage her to talk about him if she wants to. If it becomes worrying or distressing for her, try distraction - say you'll ask your MIL next time you speak to her, but it's time for lunch/supper/her favourite TV programme just now. Essentially, the key thing is to let Millie lead the conversation. She may eventually process what has happened, or she may never. Focus on her right to be told the truth about her son and deliver it as gently as you can: your concern is Millie's welfare, not Gary's dues or MIL's frustration.
Is your MIL - this is Gary's sister, is it? - worrying about what to do about Gary's funeral?
Go easy on MIL too, and if you have to disagree with her about what to tell GMIL do it sympathetically. It's bad enough to lose your brother without the added grief of your mother being unable to understand it.
Take the advice of so many experienced carers and talk around the subject. And as someone else mentioned, I, too, believe it is cruel to keep telling sad news to someone living with dementia.
See All Answers