How do I help my 88 yr. old MIL understand there are some things she just can't do any more?

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Recently my mil (89 with dementia) said she'd like to have her bread machine back (we "borrowed" it a while ago because the last time she tried to use it she mis-measured ingredients, programmed it all wrong, the bread burned, and the pans nearly had to be thrown out). A day later she presented me with a shopping list that she'd made up after going through a stack of recipes she'd cut out of a magazine...recipes that called for large portions (she lives alone) or involved a lot of prep work. She used to love to cook and bake, but it has become obvious to my husband and I that she can't follow recipes any more. She mis-measures, doesn't read ingredients correctly, skips steps or repeats them...and then I'm left with trying to figure out if her latest "project" is salvageable or should just get tossed into the trash. Her Parkinsonism has also caused her to lose a great deal of manual dexterity and messed with her depth perception...she frequently drops and/or knocks things over. She can't safely cut or chop vegetables, can't stir or pour batters without spilling, can't "lightly grease" a baking pan without going through half a can of cooking spray! She doesn't always ask to bake or cook, but every now an then she gets a yearning to try again and seems to forget (or chooses to ignore) her limitations. It's one of the tougher things I have to deal with - how to make her understand there are certain things she just can't do anymore without destroying her sense of independence and usefulness. Offering to "help" her with it is not really an option because the whole reason behind her decision to try baking some brownies or trying a new recipe is she wants to do it HERSELF. I think she wants to prove to us (and probably herself) that she still can do some things without either of us helping. Any feedback from other caregivers out there who've encountered similar situations would be welcome and appreciated!

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Yeah Jeanne, there sure are! I was just reading some posts under a other topic (why so many cases of Alzheimer's/dementia nowadays) and was reminded of the summer I got married (40+ years ago!) when I worked briefly as an aide at a nursing home - really opened my youthful eyes! There was a patient, a beautiful lady, who spent her days sitting in one of those hospital recliners lost in ber own world, talking to herself while her hands fiddled with a lace trimmed hankie that was always in her lap. My first impression upon seeing her was immense pity. I thought what an awful way to have to spend the last years of her life. It was a good facility, the staff was excellent, and the RN who was my supervisor had been working there for years and still remembered the first names of every patient she ever cared for - an amazing woman. I asked her one day what was up with that poor lady in the chair, and she told me senility...her mind was gone to the point where she didn't even respond to her own name any more, but remarkably she still remembered the names of her husband and children and "talked" to them all the time. She'd slipped back to a time in her own past when her family was young, and it must have been a wonderful time in her life because she was always happy and smiling. And this woman's family came to visit her every other Sunday. They'd sit with her for two or three hours and share stories and even though she wasn't entirely aware of their presence she'd always laugh along with them. Then I met another lady, a stout, somewhat curmudgeonly woman who'd emigrated here from Italy when she was just a young girl....married, raised a big family. She was confined to a wheelchair but her mind was still sharp. Out of five or six children only one ever came to see her - a son, who came once a month to bring her a bottle of her favorite Italian wine and then leave again...he maybe spent half an hour with her! A glass of that wine every evening before bed was the highlight of her day. I'm not exactly sure where I'm going with this, but by the time I left that job behind I'd come to the conclusion that the lady I'd felt so sorry for in the beginning might have actually been better off - at least her world was a happy one.
It's such a devastating thing to watch a person you know and love so well slowly slip away. My mil confided to me once about 6 or 7 years ago that the two things she feared the most about growing old was ending up in a wheelchair and losing her mind. She said, "If I should ever end up not being able to get around on my own two feet I'm letting you know now, I'm going to be one ornery b****!" She'd also taken care of her husband's aunt (w/alz) for almost a year and so added "if I ever start losing my mind like that, just shoot me!" She remained a vibrant fiercely independent woman right up past her 80th birthday and I thought she had 'em both beat. Now here she is, living out her final years enduring her two worst nightmares! It stinks.
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Well darn! I can see myself in your MIL's place if I get dementia -- and maybe even if I don't. Nah, I think if I'm in my right mind I'll be happy enough to let others be creative in the kitchen, and I'll do my thing in the dining room.

I relate to your MIL but I do understand the need to get persons with dementia to respect at least some of their limitations, for practical reasons. I stopped saying "you can't do that anymore" to my husband and said instead, "You did that for many, many years, and you did it very well. Now you are retired from that task. It's time to take it easy and let younger folks have their turn." I don't guess that exactly made him happy to give up shoveling snow (which he LOVED to do) or doing household plumbing or electrical repairs, but it was (I hope) a little less harsh than pointing out he wasn't capable of doing those things.

Cooking is generally not as risky as rewiring a lamp, but it sounds like MIL would be very disappointed and distressed when her creations didn't turn out to be edible, so talking her into doing something else is really as much to her benefit as yours. I hope you can find ways to lessen the hurt of not being able to do things.

Are there young family members whom she could "teach." Someone to come over and make one of her recipes under her "supervision"? Someone old enough and clever enough to understand the point of the exercise and ask for lots of advice? "Gramma, it calls for 2-and-a-half cups. Have I measured it right? ... It says to beat the eggs until they are thick and lemon-colored. Do you think I've done it enough?" Etc.

Gosh there are a lot of aspects to having dementia, aren't there!?
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Bless her heart. And yours for caring so much. I hope we all may accept graciously our limitations. Ironic, we spend many years thinking we can do anything we set our minds to, then one day when we least expect it, we are supposed to give it up. I love to cook, too, so she has my sympathy. I hope someone comes up with a safe recipe and cooking method:) xo
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Lol! honestly Christina, it wouldn't bother me in the least if she blew up the bread machine - the thing is a dinosaur and takes up way too much counter space! And I'd have no problem giving her a log of cookie dough; problem is, SHE would - not "real" cookies. I guess I should clarify a little further by adding she is also wheelchair dependent, so transporting hot, sharp or breakable items around the kitchen is a concern...she's just not always smart about it. Not her fault, but we worry. We have managed to convince her she can no longer use the stove or oven for her own safety (and we're wholeheartedly supported on that by her doctors and therapists) but she still wants to make stuff. It's the actual creative process she craves - you hit that nail right on the head - and as an artist myself I totally understand and have no wish to stifle it. We have looked the other way many times...she's attempted pancake batter, brownies, marinated mushrooms, just to name a few. All ended badly, and I'm not just referring to the food. She became so discouraged by each failed attempt that she swore "that's it...I'm done...never again" Weeks go by, she forgets. Then she comes across another recipe and the cycle starts all over again. From my perspective it's distressing to see her get so frustrated and discouraged every time, and nerve-wracking because it invariably falls on me to clean up the shards of broken mixing bowl and egg splatter and spilled flour and sticky dribbles of honey all over the floor. Maybe what I'm seeking here is not so much how to help her understand because that might not even be possible. Maybe I'm just looking for a way to cope with caring for a person who keeps wanting to do things that have become both physically and mentally difficult for her to accomplish, and almost always result in failure and discouragement.
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So let her blow up the frickin' bread machine!!! Who cares ?!?!
I would get her some Pillsbury cookie dough and a TIMER she can handle and just let her bake. After a few failures, let her decide to give it up. I would never discourage a child or an elder who wants to create. What is it hurting? xo
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