I find it hard to talk to my mom for two reasons, one related to her dementia and one that existed before. First, she seems to think I am in college and doesn’t realize that a few decades have passed since then ( when her neurologist asked her what year it was, she said 1991, so it kind of checks out). So when we talk, she asks me college-related questions about myself and seems agitated and confused when I can’t answer them, and instead talk about my life now.
Second, even before the cognitive decline, her conversations were all about her—rehashing the same stories and complaints over and over, with no real room for me to get a word in edgewise. If she did ask me a question, she would usually interrupt my answer and continue talking. If I tried to keep talking, I’d get a long lecture about how I was being disrespectful by interrupting HER. Anything she might have learned about me she would criticize anyway, so I learned to stay silent, volunteer nothing and be as vague as possible,
So now that she actually seems interested in what I have to say, but is 30 years in the past, how do I talk to her? Is anyone else in a similar situation?

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Ask yourself what you hope to achieve when you communicate with your mom.

Whatever her life OR her mental set was “BEFORE the cognitive decline”, that is now permanently changed to whatever place her thoughts bring her to in her damaged mental present.

MOST of us who are caregivers for people with progressive cognitive failure deal with this every day and/or in every visit. There is absolutely NO WAY for you to address whatever hurts you suffered in communications with her in her past.

IF YOU CHOOSE TO DO SO, you can discuss whatever emerges on a given day IN HER MENTAL WORLD.

I usually have a little packet of topics in my mind before I arrive for a visit to my LO. Stories about her great grand nieces and nephews, places she frequented as a younger professional, fashion and jewelry, the weather- I can usually comes up with something that amuses and pleases her. I set MY worries and complaints aside. She repeats, complains, asks the same questions numerous times. I could care less.

She and I had our interactive ups and downs when we were both younger, but I’ve let them go, and I love her dearly for the 10 years of care she gave MY GRANDMA, who had dementia, and her kindnesses to others, and her contributions to the poor and underserved when she was well.

So if you can come up with reasons to talk about things that she enjoys talking about, you’ll find it easier. Maybe you’ll even come to FIND it enjoyable. I hope so for both of you!
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I say go with the flow. It's the easiest way to deal with it. Make up answers if you have to. You can't reason with someone with dementia or convince them that anything is different from the way they think it is. My mother would say some crazy things at times and I didn't have the energy or mind to keep trying to correct her or tell her how something actually was and it didn't change her mind, regardless. I just went along with the conversation. It was less frustration on my end to do it that way. Basically, the mother you once knew doesn't exist anymore.
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I agree with Tiredandweary and Ann Reid about how you really have to speak on their level and in their world. Regardless of how she was before dementia, she can’t change the way she is now. It might help tp practice giving answers that make her comfortable. I made the decision to only speak of things with my LO, who has dementia, that made her happy. She can’t comprehend new news, new ideas, etc, She could not sympathize or process new info anymore, so, it’s basic answers that she can easily digest. She had little focus, so interrupting was common.(She is no longer verbal.) I still talk to her about the old days when she was healthy and we had so much fun. That made her smile. She can’t smile now either:(
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I had similar experiences with my mom when we were both younger, and I realize how hard it is to give, give, and give some more to a narcissistic mother in her time of need. My heart goes out to you, and I send hugs and support to you. My mom was also a bully to my whole family, and finally in my 50's, I recognize the true scope of the harm she inflicted on us all. But I have also come to realize, however, that narcissism is an illness, just as dementia is an illness. These realizations have given me compassion and eased my bitterness, making it easier to give her the love she needs at this time.

I would engage her in the time she is now existing. Revisit the experiences of your college days in your mind, and entertain her with them. The smoother your interactions flow now, the better you both will feel during and afterwards. One trick I use to help myself to be more loving to my mother, is to fantasize that I am caring for someone who is not my mother. I fantasize that she is merely a client. I know that sounds daft, but the deeply rooted conflict is strongly abated, and I feel as though I can "trick" myself into behaving/feeling as an unbiased caregiver should behave/feel -- compassionate and professional at all times. Hang in there. I know too well that it's so hard to rise above everything that you have been through with her. But my ability to consciously "let go" of the past has not only been incredibly beneficial to my mother -- It's also been incredibly beneficial to myself.

Being with her so intimately is bound to dredge up painful memories, so during the times that you don't "let go" successfully, nourish yourself. See a movie, enjoy a fine meal, be in nature, go to a museum, exercise (or whatever activities you enjoy) and probably most importantly -- carve out time to see good friends and/or enjoy quality time with your partner. Stimulation will give a better perspective and ease the depression. Hugs and strength to you!
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ExhaustedPiper Feb 2020
This is great advice for the OP and also for myself so thank you! I will say though that letting go can be VERY difficult. Sometimes you have to go grey rock for self preservation, because even if you can successfully detach, there needs to be a certain amount of cooperation on the part of the parent.

To the OP, Doggomom, I hope you come back. Not just for advice, but for support for yourself. One of the hardest aspects of this is feeling so alone in dealing with it. In real life, outside of seeing a therapist I can't talk to people about this. So, hope you come around Doggomom, you will benefit from the support here.
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I believe the first step is to accept that your Mom has dementia and to not expect what she is not capable of.

What helped me when I first started taking care of my Mom was watching Teepa Snow youtube video's.

I don't talk about myself unless my Mom asks me a question which I answer (short and loving). My Mom does repeat the same stories over and over and I pretend I am hearing them for the first time because I understand her brain is broken. Yes, it takes patience and I do not get frustrated because I'm thankful that my Mom is still with me (she is 94).

Hope this helps a little,
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ThePlains18 Mar 2020
I echo Jenna’s comments. Teepa Snow’s videos have helped me understand volumes about my mother’s decline. I’d like to add that with or without underlying mental health issues as younger parents of us old kids...dementia now can look and feel narcissistic and manipulative. I know that however difficult my mother might have been in her is now involuntary. She really can’t help it. I am lucky that she still “feels” like my Mom, to me. She is herself underneath the losses. I know this can change - so for now, this is enough for me.
My grandmother will be 81 at the end of March. I'm her oldest grandchild and will be 40 in two weeks. She regularly talks to me like I am in college again, recently graduated, or like I am my youngest cousin who is in college now; she is regularly surprised that she has two great grandchildren. After a lot of practice, I have learned to answer like whoever she thinks she's talking to. I have also had to learn to push past frustrations or hurts down and deal with them independently because she simply does not remember. It's not easy by a long shot, but I have found it to be more helpful and self-preserving than arguing with someone about something that will be forgotten in 30 seconds to a few minutes while I'm left with hurt and unresolved feelings.

One thing that has helped my family is to make a game of giving different answers when she interrupts us or asks the same questions repeatedly. I am simultaneously straight/gay/single/married/childless/an adoptive mother depending on the day or conversation. I'm Schrodinger's granddaughter (lol).
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jaejelley Mar 2020
Love the different answers! That's how my husband deals with my demented Mother. He often launches into a song and dance and she forgets what the topic is. He's a great help.
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My mother asks me about going back to school and I don’t really know if she is thinking about college or my earlier years. I just play along and let her take the lead. Sometimes we talk about where she lived as a teenager just to make conversation. When she asks where her children are, all of them are over the age of 50, I say they are at their houses or at work. If she really starts to get aggravated about where her children are and it’s after 8pm I tell her that they are at one of my sisters houses spending the night. I have learned the art of “little white lies” posted on one of the aging websites. It has helped a lot!
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Im sorry I don’t have any advice to offer you but I’m so thankful I found this site. My 86 years old mother is in her early stage of dementia and I found it so difficult to listen to her repeating herself constantly and whatever I do or say it never good enough for her. I love my mother very much and gave up my 23 years of career to be home full time with her but all I got from her is negativity. Sometimes it’s very hard for me to deal with since I had been in the leadership role for the last 23 years in my career.
By joining this site and reading these wonderful comments/advice help me understand so I can give the best care to my loving mother that she reserved.
I want to say thank you again for all the questions and responses that being posted here. It provides a wonderful advice to the new person like myself 🙏
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Just listen!!
Answer the questions
About college.
It will never be about you.
Let her talk.
Get into HER reality now
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Im going thru same thing with my mom. I, too, talk less cuz it doesn't matter. If any name comes up, she still judges them by some previous teen mistake 20-30 yrs ago! I moved back to a town where I know very few cuz she wouldnt bend. I don't know advice except fight resentment, don't blame n be harsh. They didn't choose this!
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