How can I tell if my parents have dementia?

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I'm new to this forum and came across this via Google. I do not know where to go to get my parents help. My apologies for this being long, but it involves two people and I would appreciate any insight you can provide based on your experiences.


Both my parents are in their 70's. They recently sold their house to move closer to me and my family to be near their grandchildren and help us out. I've heard stories from my brother and some from my mother about my dad's behavior. Most of my life he was an unsavory character that would like to get to people's emotions just for kicks. Growing up he would embarrass us in public with weird questions and behaviors. This has continued, although it seems like my mom's new thing is that he's been cheating on her (well new as in the last 10 years). I'm not sure if any of it is true, but judging by some of her outrageous stories like middle-aged women climbing onto the roof of the house, I'm guessing it's not. Still, that has not stopped her from getting a full on security system and making my dad a prisoner in his own home where she holds all the keys and even then she still accuses him. She recently told me that he confessed to her about having an affair 15 years ago, but this is the first I am hearing of this so I'm not sure if it's true either.


When they sold their house and moved here, I naively thought that a new life with their grandkids would dissolve all of this, but two weeks into moving into their apartment my mom is accusing my dad of infidelity again. She always claims she finds things like grass on the floor or dog hairs in the car and they don't own a dog. Recently she said that she caught him red-handed an old woman that must of been in their bedroom and she came in and out of the window. Now again not sure if any of this is true, but I doubt an old woman would be limber enough to climb through a window, but maybe I'm wrong.


My dad's immediate reaction is to lose his temper to the point that he breaks furniture. It's gotten so bad in public that stores and places have had to question his behavior. They get into terrible fights to the point that the cops have showed up. Again, I thought this would stop once they moved, but I recently found out that the cops had to come to their apartment.


I'm at a loss. My mom accuses me of not believing her and I'm really tired of her and my dad's irrational behavior which is not limited to just losing his temper. I've caught him antagonizing my dog to the point my dog bit him and antagonizing my 4-year-old daughter to the point that she cries. I've also caught both of them lying to me in order to manipulate the stories to their advantage. I don't know what to do at this point. I'm not sure if they are exhibiting signs of dementia or what.


My mom also has a tendency to completely change the subject of a conversation we are having or redirecting it as if I was not talking at all. I'm not sure if that's a sign of dementia or hearing loss. And my dad just acts strange. It's hard to explain, but he will will randomly spill things or hurt himself for no reason. He also brings weird things into our house. I've often found him passed out with a cigar on his lips about to fall on him and he's covered in cigar holes in his clothes.


I just want to get my parents the help they need, but I don't know where to start. They both deny anything is wrong with them. Sometimes I wonder if they are just gas lighting each other. I always feel like I am pitted between them and supposed to take sides. I would appreciate any help and or experiences you may have. Thank you for reading this.

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Do your parents have a doctor that they see for their general health? It sounds as though they both have mental health issues that need to be dealt with.

Get them to their doctor and explains about your mom's delusions and your father's loss of emotional control and erratic behavior.

I would not allow them near young children.
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It may be too bad that your parents moved closer to you. Sounded like a good idea at the time, huh?

It sounds like you father is as he has always been only more so. ("The older I get, the more like myself I become.") I would be very careful about how much exposure my children had to this man. I would be firm about stopping him when he is being cruel. You couldn't depend yourself as a child, but you certainly should defend your own children.

As to your mother, she is definitely experiencing some kind of mental health issue. Could it be dementia? Well, yes it could, but that is not the only possibility. As KayKay describes it, dementia (especially Alzheimer's) usually comes on gradually, and starts with memory issues. But sudden onset dementia (not gradual!) is not unheard of, and there are about 50+ types of dementia besides ALZ. In Lewy Body Dementia, for example, the earliest symptoms may not be memory at all, but hallucinations and delusions.

So, who knows what is wrong with your mother? Getting her to a doctor would be a good idea. Since they have recently moved I assume they'll need new doctors. If at all possible steer them toward a geriatrician. These people specialize in older adults just as pediatrician specialize in children. And I think it would be a very good idea to list your concerns about mom and give it to the doctor before her first visit.

Whatever is causing her paranoid delusions, I doubt you'll be able to talk her out of them. Usual advice is to Not Argue. Obviously you are not going to agree, either. Try to stay neutral. "Oh mom, how very awful and angry that must make you feel if dad is seeing other women! I know that was a problem in the past, but I thought he has cleaned up his act." "Gee, Mom, someone sneaking in or out of the bedroom window seems kind of unlikely, don't you think? Tell you what, next time you think that is happening call me right away and I'll play Sherlock Holmes and see what I can discover."

Aside from health issues, it sounds like there is a long-standing dysfunctional marriage here. You may be able to help with health issues, but stay out of their marriage! This is well beyond something an adult child can fix.
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This may not be a sudden onset of this behavior.

Because my Mom and Dad lived independently until a year ago...no one really knew the full extent of the "issues" my Dad had. Dementia on a full blown scale. Only person who knew was Mom, and she wasn't talking to anyone about it. Oh, occasionally she would mention some odd event...but, never really let on just how weird he had become.

We the family lawyer and I had me assigned guardian, my Dad was going to fight that tooth and nail. So, when all the specialist and the lawyer come to evaluate my Dad...I told them....ask him to pay a bill. Hand him the latest Electric utility bill and the check book....ask him to pay the bill and log the entry into the register. Of course, he didn't understand any of it. But, he got real mad and threw a fit....his way of covering for his deficiency.

For years he had been accusing my Mom of having another man in the house at night.

What we learned was...he had advanced hydrocephalus. The noise in his head, the dementia all caused by ever increasing fluid pressure in his head. Way past the point where anything could be done.

Anyway, do not discount dementia just because it seems like new behavior to you...you just might be the last to know is all
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You can TELL the doctor anything you care to. The doctor can't divulge information to you.
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Your parents are in their 70's so would first make sure they get their POA's in order or recommend it. You can call their doctor and ask for private call with them. Expect to pay $$ out of pocket but it will be worth it to get the ball rolling. Tell the doctor you are NOT their POA's but for the safety of society, you would highly recommended that their primary doctor give them individually a basic congnitive test. Your father, in his unappropriateness is showing definitely signs of dementia. I would not allow him near the dog or your kids anymore until he gets checked out. And don't feel bad about telling him so. As for your Mom, would just tell her to be safe she should get checked out too... and if the Doctor is in doubt, they will recommend a neurologist... there are meds to help with behavioral problems and they work wonders. And don't let yourself end up being the referee between your parents... try to have a relationship with each of them and let them know you are doing all of this out of love and for your (all 3+ of you) future relationships together. Good luck to you.
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Talk to their family physician - and suggest that maybe they need to be scheduled for some testing. They did a PET Scan on my dad for Parkinson's and found Early Onset Alzheimer's instead. It's a non-invasive test that checks the brain. I believe he had been sent to a Neurologist who then scheduled the test.

Always start with their family physician. Even if they cannot disclose information to you - you can disclose information to their physicians.
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Hi-First of all, you have now entered the Club; 'Parenting your parents and caring for them because you love them'...I completely empathize with you but you have a different kind of path ahead of you. You have to accept it ...Secondly, you need to start documenting each of your parents behavior. Then you need to get that info to their doctors.
Regarding your dad; it sounds to me (I'm no doctor but I have taken care of both my parents for the last 5 yrs ( and each of them at different ends of the spectrum so I know a little about what you are going thru. Since they're not my parents, I don't know the complete emotional attachment to this situation you are experiencing. ) It almost sounds like he's having a medical issue; like perhaps maybe a tumor or chemical imbalance of some kind, but it doesn't appear to be dementia. If he's done/said these things most of his life then it's definitely a medical issue.
Regarding your mom; it sounds like dementia.
Doctors don't really start to look at these issues unless someone else close to them lets the doctors know. Patients put on a good front to their doctors because they don't want to be considered 'crazy'(speaking from experience !!!) ...I felt terrible whenever I gave my notes to each of my parents' doctors, but it makes the medical care more exact and the doctors actually appreciate the 'real' things going on - after all, they are DOCTORS who are there to help...they were very supportive of ME once they knew the real story of each of my parents.
Talk to the doctor !!! Either slip the notes to the receptionist when the other parent isn't looking (have them sit down first and you check them in) , mail it to them, or give it to the medical assistant as they leave the exam room (my mother had the Alzheimers dementia and never noticed me slip it to the MA !!!)
The most important thing to ALWAYS KNOW is to maintain your parents dignity !!! VERY, VERY important...
And, to make sure either you or someone else close has the DPOA already taken care of so you have a little more ability to take care of important things instead of waiting til it's more difficult...
Get those notes to your dad's doctor ASAP, and also your mom's...I got Mom help at the early stage and was beneficial which allowed for better future planning. Help your parents, and help yourself. The bond you create with your parents' doctors is extremely important and beneficial to all involved...the doctors may have no idea of these issues and incidents (give specific info when informing the doctors) and once they know, they will start checking on it asap in their medical way.
I can't stress this enough...good luck to you. :)
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It sounds like your parents have been this way for a long time .. your father most definitely. Please keep them away from your children ... your father is abusive.
As to dementia, that is a complicated thing that only a doctor can diagnose. In as much as they are not declared "incompetent", you have no power to get them to a doctor or make any decisions on their behalf.
It is a difficult situation to say the least. Please put your children (if they are under age 18 and living at home) FIRST.
Wish I had more to offer ... perhaps others. Also, you can see a therapist yourself for guidance on how to handle this situation.
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Oh, my, I recognize this crazy behavior. It reminds me of my experience. Your parents have other issues besides potential dementia. You have probably grown accustomed to your dad's raging and bad behavior but it is not normal. In my life, I had to get professional help to learn to set boundaries and protect my children from the weirdness I experienced as a child. Did your father ever drink too much? Or your mother? I know you love your parents but your job now is YOUR family and they should come first. I believe in honoring my parents and I also believe that I should owe my parents too much money, love and care just because they had me. Your parents dysfunction can ruin your life with your husband and children if you aren't aware of it.

From personal experience, my father-in-law had bipolar disorder and it got more intense when he got older. My mother has always been slightly paranoid and ill-at-ease. Age and the onset of dementia has made it worse. She also gets memories confused and dreams up things that didn't happen. And usually those things are about someone or something that's "out to get her".

So, yes, do what you can to get her tested. (My mom just thinks that is crazy because there is nothing wrong with her) Be aware that they will be mean to you because they will be mad. And do some personal work to make sure you aren't accepting bad behavior because you are used to it. My marriage would be a shambles if I didn't put my husband and children above my parents needs.
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Oh my, I can relate. My parents moved 4 houses down from me about 13 years ago. It was nice until it became clear that their relationship had deteriorated since they had become empty-nesters. I have been playing marriage counselor for a decade. It sucks to be placed in that position and it's not fair. It has turned out, however, that my dad did develop dementia and it likely came on slowly and could have been a catalyst to some of the bizarre behavior I have witnessed between them. His dementia became apparent 3-4 years ago but he was likely struggling with it earlier. His dementia became clear when he could no longer manage their money (such as the check book) and started doing things he did not remember later (such as cashing in a life insurance policy and not telling my mom). 

At first I cried a lot after my visits to their house, watching the way they treated each other and begging them to "please be nice" to each other! After 2 years or so of this, I put up my wall of protection and realized their self destructive behavior had been going on for a while and had become their way of life. I recently placed my dad in a facility, I had to. His dementia got worse and they constantly picked at each other. 

Take care of yourself and your children first. Realize that you can't control or change another's behavior. The nasty personality traits could be the early signs of dementia. Keep an eye out for changes in money management, organization and care of the home, and personal hygiene. Those were the signs that slowly evolved in my parents' case. I wish you well, squabbling negative parents can drag down your life.
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