How do you handle mother-in-law who is negative and delusional?

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My 89 year-old French mother-in-law came to live with us in California two years ago. It has been a living hell. My husband is an only son who was raised by his single mom from the young age of 2. She never remarried after the divorce. She speaks little or no English, does not hear without hearing aids yet often neglects to wear them, is legally blind (macular degeneration), and has some form of dementia or Alzheimer's. My own mom passed away with heart condition/lung cancer at 65. MIL is a smoker, and even though she smokes in the backyard, I can still at times smell the cigarettes/fumes.


She constantly complains to us about her vision impairment (I understand that it is very troubling to her but her vision loss occurred before moving here) and a host of other ailments including foot pain, hearing difficulty, skin problems, lack of sleep. She talks incessantly about washing machines that neighbors are running all night that keep her up, yet we live far away from any other houses. She heard these same noises back home in France - I don't know if the noise she is hearing is tinnitus or delusional.


She also loses things and blames others for stealing them - it can be a comb, bras, bathing cap, soap - or even her cigarettes. She has accused my son and his girlfriend of theft on many occasions, or the cleaning people. She is obsessed with this and mentions this thievery issue multiple times during the day.


She yells all day long and my nerves are completely frayed. Right now, I am looking for work and am at home a lot, so spend proportionately more time with her than my husband. I feel very depressed about the situation. My husband is a manager who works 50 hours a week. All this is especially difficult, as I had a traumatic brain injury several years ago leaving me with chronic headaches.


She has been a difficult MIL, very controlling and negative, very attached to hubby, and hyper critical of the kids. My dad is also quite challenging too in terms of constant complaints and chronic hypochondria, and calls me incessantly. But at least he lives on the East Coast and has financial means to have home assistance (plus I have two sisters who live close by).


Further, it is difficult finding resources to help, given her communication problems and lack of English. Though she visited every summer, she has not adapted well to life here. She has no real activities, and I am working with a local day facility to see if she could try it out for a couple of hours and see if the language is not too difficult a barrier. I found her a lovely native French speaker to come by the house twice a week to teach her a few English phrases. We both take MIL to doctor visits.


She cannot be on Medicaid for another 3 years and neither she nor we have the financial means or long-term insurance if she ever needed more skilled care than what we could provide at home.


My husband is an absolute saint on many levels. He was very insistent that because she could no longer live at home by herself, that it was his obligation to take care of her. And I guess me, by default. He does so much for the family and is trying to make everyone happy. Though he pretty much told me that between me and MIL, I was the one who had to go if I weren't happy with the situation. That is due to the fact that we couldn't send her back to France. Though he still loves me and I feel the same.


I feel that hubby is in denial about her dementia problems and how much a toll it is taking on me. He told me that I have to change the way I take her, ignore her, etc. But with her ranting and yelling within earshot continuously throughout the day, it's no easy task. Her behavior seems better in the evenings and weekends when my husband is home. My hubby doesn't like emotional topics or confrontation of any kind and would rather sweep all of this under the rug. But this is definitely wearing on our marriage and our physical and emotional health.


I would appreciate any advice about handling this situation or available resources out there. Would meds help her behavior? Hubby has never discussed these issues with her internist, but I am encouraging him to do so on her upcoming doctor's visit. We live in a smaller town, so do not have access to a lot of French people or things - we have tried to find a French-speaking caregiver through local agencies to no avail, so it is hard to get away from the house for overnight. Son in late 20's lived at home for short time, and moved out because of he could not handle her accusations. So he is not a viable option for caregiving.

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What a nightmare. Her yelling is probably due to not wearing hearing aids. If she insists on not wearing them (like so many seniors), tell her she is screaming, and that it is hurting your ears. This has helped me in relation to my father who also tends to scream when he is not wearing his aids (most of the time). The behaviours sound so very difficult... it does sound like she has tinnitus which is really hard to treat, but the tinnitis along with the other behaviours may be the inroad for some anti depressent or other medication which may treat a few of these problems all at once. I suspect all of these behaviour would cluster around changes in the brain as well as depression - so I think its very reasonable to discuss your concerns with the doctor. I am sad to hear your husband said it would be you go go before her...that's not a great thing to have to hear and I do think its unfair and dismissive of the extremely difficult situation you are holding up. Definitely start with the doc and see if some medications will help. Respite from your care giving role is also a very good idea. Take yourself away. Even if your husband doesn't come with you. Book a weekend away? Or, have your MIL put into respite. Be honest with your husband. Tell him you are near a nervous breakdown. Tell your own doctor you are nearing a nervous breakdown because of the high carer burden, which it is. Hopefully you will get some help to take some pressure off. It does sound extremely hard - after a long history of being there for others.
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Tell him flat out that you are his wife and you are his first obligation, not his mother. His mom has to go, it's not negotiable. Lay it out for him, unless he wants to be homeless and without money, mother must leave. No husband worth his weight in gold would foist this on you.
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