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I have become a caregiver for my Mother In Law who has stage 3 (?) Alzheimer’s. On a daily basis, I end up spending more time with her than my husband. On occasion, especially in the evening, she can say very hurtful things - often racist (I am white and she is black). I know she wouldn’t have said these things earlier in her life; however, they still hurt and I have to walk away to keep from saying something back to her. She also seems to act helpless, especially when her son is around. She “needs” him to help her put on her coat, boots, or get her ice cream... as an example. She doesn’t do this with me. Her son enables her by getting her ice cream, chocolate, and cookies almost on a daily basis, because she will pout if he doesn’t! Anyway, I am feeling resentful of her. I truly hate to say this!! She is a kind and loving woman; however, at times I am so tempted to talk back to her. Any advice is appreciated.

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My dear, great advice from Jeanne. Just remember to talk to her doc, or to a geripsych about these behaviors. There may be meds that will help, and that will allow her to stay at home longer.
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Thank you for the support!! I feel better already. My MIL is in stage 3 (?). She dresses herself, eats independently!, and is independent with hygiene; although, she often refuses to do these things - unless going to an event.
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If it weren't for the dementia, I'd absolutely approve of talking back to her. If it weren't for the dementia I'd encourage your husband to knock it off with the waiting on her and display some tough love.

But the dementia is a huge reality here, and it must be taken into account.

Some questions that will help our responses be more specific:
How long have you been married?
How long has MIL had dementia?
Why are you the one taking care of her?
What are her impairments (mobility issues, hearing problems, etc.)

Be glad that your MIL would not have said those racial slurs to you earlier in her life. But realize that she certainly heard them (assuming you are in the US). She heard them against blacks and against whites, and she has probably been on the receiving end of them. So those mean words are in her brain. She is losing her social filters. Stuff pops out from various parts of her past. This does not reflect the "real" her.

I had never heard my husband swear or use vulgar language. He wasn't a crusader about it; it didn't bother him that I swear, he just didn't do it. So I was really shocked when, early in his dementia, he came out with a swear phrase quite a bit stronger than I might have used. Well, of course those words were in his brain -- he'd heard them all his life. He'd been filtering them out of his spoken language but his filters were weakening, and out it came. I wonder if this is similar for you MIL saying things she would certainly not have said when she was "in her right mind."

That doesn't mean you have to stand there and take it. Walking away seems appropriate to me -- to protect yourself. If you can stay calm perhaps you could say something like, "I see you are upset. I'll come back later and hope you are calm then." But if you are too upset yourself to stay calm then it is probably better to just walk out.

The "I won't listen to this" approach is to protect you. Don't expect it to teach MIL not to say things like that. In dementia the brain is broken and the ability to learn is limited.

Her son enables her by getting her ice cream, etc. Realize that if he stopped she would not stop begging for help everyday. She would not "learn" to be less helpless. It might be good for her to put her own coat on or get the cookie, both because it would be assuring her she still has some independence and also because walking is often better than sitting. I am glad to hear that she is not so needy around you.

But it also might be good for her to be reassured that her son still loves her and considers her worthy of help. And that might be good for your husband, too. Dementia is fatal (though it may take several years) and it is natural that loved ones start to change in their relationship.

You are a kind and thoughtful person, and you truly hate the resentment you are feeling. I hope that your own social filters are firmly in place and that you can avoid talking back to her -- it won't help her and you will feel terrible later. You don't deserve that!

Without knowing more about your situation, I have two suggestions:
1. Learn more about dementia. Join a caregivers support group. Come to this site and vent. Look at youtube videos by Teepa Snow.
2. Take breaks! Arrange to go out on your own. Join a book club or a bowling league or something that will take you out of caregiving role for a few hours. And make sure that you and hubby have private time together.
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Google "sundowning". This is part of dementia.


Get her seen, asap, by a geriatric psychiatrist, for meds.
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