How do we learn to cope with possible dementia in an elderly mother?

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Wow! Just reading this site is helpful in seeing that elderly probems with an aging parent is SO common! I have few friends who are going through this... but there are so many people who are. I feel badly for you ALL. It certainly is not something we planned for. My sister & I have both been to counseling to try to learn how to deal with our hypochondriac 87-yr old-mother. The main advice was to limit visits. Unfortunately mom emails us many times a day with complaints... she hates living in a seniors residence & has accused us of "putting her away" when in fact she agreed to move there. She was falling constantly at home & needed proper meals, an apartment with no stairs & a nurse on site to deal with her constant hypochondria complaints. Moving her hasn't helped. She reminds us daily how much she hates it there. The nurse is in to see her constantly & she takes her temperature 10 times a day... and reports the readings to us along with bowel movements, pain, loneliness, depression etc. The complaints never end. I try to only read & respond to her emails once a day. I visit once a week unless my sister is away. I am sure she has a dementia going on but her doctor is treating depression as he feels her memory loss & poor judgement are related to depression. She has been depressed since I was a child! Her behavior is indicating that more is going on. Because she has difficulty walking any distance even with a walker, we recently had an OT & PT visit. She is getting an electric wheelchair (we have rented one until she gets her own) to decrease her isolation... she sits in her apartment all day in the Seniors Residence. Her emails are "desperate". She refuses to go to any activities. We try to take her & she wants to return to her room within 15 minutes. She does NOTHING to help herself. We feel badly she is unhappy. But at what point do we somehow refuse to let her control & ruin our own lives? It's hard to stop this rollercoaster! She has no friends as the only thing she talks about is complaints... no one there wants to hear it! These elderly people are all trying to cope with life as an elderly person who no longer can manage in their own homes! Every time my sister or I take a vacation, something happens to her & she is in "unbearable pain" and "needs us". We're worn out & exhausted with her complaints. She was a terrible mother when we were young but she is still our mother. All of you seem to have very similar issues. She's medically well... arthritis is her only major issue. I am sure she has a dementia starting but there is no help... mother would refuse to go for testing in any case. And she can refuse as she is not diagnosed. We're in a real dilemma here. Suggestions? Thanks!

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Sounds like my mother. She was a complaining, sick unhappy person for as long as I can remember. She felt she had the worst life in the world, we kids were all horrible, my dad didn't pay any attention to her, she was depressed many times and would lock herself in her room for months at a time--expecting us kids to cook and clean and bring her meals. She had so many surgeries, I cannot even begin to count them. She never txed the depression--just screamed at us and blamed us for her rotten life.

Now she DOES have dementia. Not bad--but she can't remember names and places and she has no sense of time passing---BUT she's really sweet now. I feel so bad that 90% of my memories of her are negative. I'm trying to enjoy the "demented" mother I now have.

We could never make her happy. Nobody could. Only one person can make you happy and that's yourself.

I wouldn't beat myself up over your mom's misery. Seems like she's chosen this path, and she's getting what she paid for.

I also wouldn't increase my visits, nor my calls. I'd actually call screen her, if I were you. Learn to let go of the guilt, if needs be. She is right where she chose to be. Lonely, alone and depressed. So sad. It could all be different, if she chose to make it so.
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How do you learn to cope with dementia in a loved one? I think the first critical step is to understand that your LO's brain is damaged. There are plaques or tangles or protein bodies or some other disturbance that interferes with how the brain works. Dementia progresses, and is fatal. There is no cure, but medications can often address some of the symptoms.

As Sunnygirl1 suggested, learn all you can about any condition you know or suspect your mother has. This is really the most important thing you can do to develop an attitude to help you cope.

Accept that it is not your responsibility to make you mother happy. Good thing, because that is not possible! You may be able, in some cases, to remove an obstacle to her happiness, but the rest is up to her.

Besides learning about and accepting her health conditions, you take it one symptom at a time. And this is pretty much true whether she "just" has depression or has dementia damage in her brain. For example, one of her current symptoms is wanting to go home. Focus on that. With your sister come up with a strategy to deal with that. Try that plan consistently for a few weeks. If it isn't helping, brainstorm again. Ask her nurse, ask a social worker, post here for input specifically on that problem.

Another current symptom is the constant barrage of emails. You've already got some suggestions about that. Agree on a way to handle this so you and sister are consistent, and stick with it.

Another symptom is twisting what she has heard to suit her own purposes. A possible approach would be to find anything in her statement that you can go along with. "Oh Mom, we know! Your are a very sick lady. I'm just so glad that you are handling this with courage." (She is, after all, mentally sick and she has just had cancer.) Agreeing that she is one sick lady if that pleases her would not be lying! The courage part might be stretching the truth a bit, but try not to end the conversation on a negative note.

The point is that you cannot address all her many symptoms concurrently without an approach/plan for handling each one. Stay flexible. It is better to adjust your approach as you see the results than not to have a plan at all!

If you can join a support group for persons caring for their parents, you may find that extremely helpful.
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I'm so sorry she's still so unhappy. Can you get this feedback to the geripsych who is treating her? It's possible she needs a different med, or an additional one.
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Hi Barb, Yes Mom is on medication for depression & sleep. She has been on medications for as long as I can remember. Today we took her to her Specialist to check on her post op progression after partial removal of her tongue & lymph nodes....cancer... despite never smoking or drinking EVER in her life. Her checkup was excellent news...no need for chemo or radiation and healing extremely well. My mother was NOT happy or grateful...she insisted she heard the Specialist day she was a very sick woman & that her tongue would take 4 months to heal....none of this was true....both my sister & I were there fortunately. She has so much to be grateful for but wants sickness & attention. So my sister & I will be trying to back off...she doesn’t appreciate us anyway. She just wants an audience to complain to. Sad but true. I’m sure she will start falling again or there will be some other incident to force our attention. We’ve heard it all by now I hope...she is truly a mentally ill woman & I’m not sure there is anything that can be done to help this woman...she thrives on illness & attention.
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Did the psychiatric team recommend medication? Is she getting it?
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Thanks Everyone! Your responses have all been helpful. I like the idea of printing off her emails...seeing her “help me” emails on paper may help to put things into perspective. We have tried the suggestions of limiting contact with little success. She became even worse if that is possible. I will continue to try however...I sure enjoy Vacations! I have way too tender of a heart...I know I need to learn to desensitize as much as possible. We did try to surprise visit a Psychiatric Team & Gerintologist...now she doesn’t trust us, is suspicious & has dug her heels in even more...but it was worth the try....
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A few years ago when it was clear my mom had the beginnings of dementia, it was very very hard. My mother would call me all the time - often several times a day - with various "crisis du jour" and wanting me to drop everything right away to help her. I couldn't always drop everything right away; I was self-employed and also a family at home.

I had to learn to set boundaries and this was very difficult, as I knew she was lonely and bored as well as having some health issues, but it was partly her illness and partly the stubborn choices she was making. I couldn't "force" her to make positive changes or change her outlook. So I made a choice for what I would and wouldn't do for her at the time and stuck to it. I visited, I tried to help, but I would not be "on call" like she wanted.

Fast forward and her dementia has gotten worse but things have changed. After a series of falls, hospitalizations, and other crazy incidents, I stepped forward and became her legal guardian. (Years ago she had things set up for a springing POA but now when it was needed, she wouldn't let us even see any of her legal documents and even hid some of them. What's the point of setting up legal docs if you don't let your family access them?!)

Now I actually can supposedly "force" certain changes - but that doesn't make it easy!!! It is very very hard. So I guess what I am saying is, decide in advance what you will and won't do - how much of yourself you will invest. And then stick to it.
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So the therapist advice was only to limit visits? "My sister & I have both been to Counselling to try to learn how to deal with our hypochondriac 87 yr old mother. The main advice was to limit visits." My goodness, some of these therapists we read about here aren't very helpful at all, are they?

I love 97yroldmom's suggestion to print out all emails and compile data on what kind of complaints your mother has. And then give them to the doctor.
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I'm glad you and sister are seeking counseling and making use of this site.
As I'm sure you've figured out the old expression "the only person you can change is yourself" is very true.
Your mother is your mother. Moving to senior housing won't make her personality change.
So could it be that you need to remind yourself daily that mom is safe, that she is getting medical attention, that she has options to isolating? No more stairs. Nurse on site. I would say things have changed in that she is safer.
What you could do is not tell mom you are going on vacation. Why tell her if it causes her anxiety? I assume you and sister don't go on vacation together?
When you take her to an activity you don't have to leave in 15 min. Tell her ahead of time you are staying 30 min. Or whatever is appropriate for the event. If she has dementia you can adjust your behavior as appropriate. If she doesn't she needs to learn what you want is just as important as what she wants.
Also don't read her emails everyday if once a day is too stressful. She's using them to vent but they make you feel bad. Quit doing things that make you feel bad. The staff will alert you if anything is wrong, right?
If you feel you must read them, do something useful with them. Here is an example.
Print them out. Put them in a 3 ring binder. Highlight in red all
" emergencies " in blue all the "emotional blackmail" etc.
Make a summary page for every week or month.
144 requests to move. 326 Complaints about sister. 222 stomach aches. Etc.
You will now have a pattern to show her dr. You will be looking at the data and not dwelling on your emotional response.
I would set aside an hour to look at her emails once a week, not daily.
Each day, if you like, you can send her one. Not as a response to what she's written. Send her a review on a resturant you'd like to take her to. A funny video you saw online. A tidbit one of the grandkids said. Something funny or sweet. Make your email not about her complaints but about fun uplifting things.
A geriatric psychiatrist would be a good choice of a new dr to take her to.
Just take her. No discussion. Lie if you need to. What is she going to do? Not speak to you again?
You need a second opinion. She may not want one but you need it to manage her care.
About the OT and PT visit. Did they not think she needed therapy or did she have therapy recently? Or did she send them away?
If she can afford it, hire an aid to visit her everyday. To take her to the events or to just watch tv with her. Someone she can visit with. Talk about her daughters to. As she becomes more comfortable with the aid she might be willing to venture out more. 
I hope you are able to make positive change for yourself regardless of moms reaction. Sometimes all we can do is just see that they have ADL help and accept that it is their life, their choices and try to use it as a lesson on how we conduct our own lives. 
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It is hard to accept - but you cannot MAKE your mom happy or content or participate in the activities. If her complaints are stressing you out - limit your contact.
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