My Mom (88) with dementia/Alzheimer's is starving herself to death. What do I do?


She decided she can't eat solid food although she can just decided not too. Claims food gets in her teeth. She also won't brush her teeth or shower. Hasn't showered in weeks now. Gets very mad when I suggest she get clean. I offer to help. Tells me to mind my own business. She is still home where I do everything. All cleaning, laundry, etc. She also has a fixation on our dogs eating. Of course I feed all 4 dogs and two cats constantly she is obsessed that they aren't getting fed so hear about this non-stop. I am more worried about her eating. Since she won't eat she drinks Ensure and Boost which are supplemental and at least have some vitamins that she needs. She won't take regular vitamins because she claims she can't swallow pills although she will take pills at bedtime to sleep that her doctor gives her. I love my mother if course and am lucky she is alive for me to take care of her but I am burning out! Sometimes just need to vent to add someone that will listen or care. She asks the same questions over and over. Doesn't remember that I just answered. She hasn't showered or brushed her teeth in weeks. When I ask her to she gets resentful and tells me to mind my own business. Of course I offer to help but she refuses. Asks me if she smells bad, which she does, but then gets mad. I care for her 24/7. I have two older sisters but they are too busy with their lives to help. I am beyond burn out. Just need some advice on how to deal with this. She is literally starving herself to death because she refuses to eat. I know she can because I've seen her "sneak" out to kitchen and eat bread and butter. She has become anorexic. I love her and am real lucky to have her to kiss goodnight. Please forgive me me if I sound ungrateful or have repeated myself. Lack of sleep. Anyway thanks for letting me vent. I'm sure there are others out there with worse situations. Any suggestions or feedback I will be so grateful for. Thank you for listening /reading. Sincerely will appreciate any feedback or suggestions. Sincerely, Jeanne

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BurnedOut, a lot of your description of you mom reminds me of my cousin. Before she went into Assisted Living, she obsessed with her cat and food for the cat. She would forget from minute to minute that she had fed the cat. She would constantly follow the cat around, obsessing about it. She would also would not bathe or change clothes. She repeated the same things over and over. She also would hardly eat a thing, except for cookies. She always would say she would eat later, but then she would forget and never eat. She lost a lot of weight. I had to sit and watch her eat everyday to ensure she did eat something like protein.

This behavior can be very frustrating, but it's a part of dementia. It's caused by brain damage and is the body's way of responding. She's not doing this to be mean or difficult. Maybe, if you read a lot about the condition, you will find it easier to accept it. Eventually, the body will shut down and even if the patient eats, their body will not absorb the nutrients.

Eventually, my loved one started back eating in Memory Care Assisted Living. She is on a schedule and eats anything they put in front of her for meals and snacks. I'm not sure why, but she did go on a medication called Cymbalta. She is no longer obsessive and seems pretty content most of the time. That could be why her appetite returned.

You might also discuss it with her doctor. Eventually, most dementia patients stop eating. It's a part of the condition.

I would try to get her bathed a couple of times per week. You might ask her doctor about that too. Can you afford to hire a person to come in and help with that? Sometimes dementia patients will cooperate better with someone from outside the home.
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You will never be brought up on charges that will stick. Older people who are not well often have issues with their appetites. She is receiving nutrition and hydration, through Boost and Ensure, water with pills, and occasional bread and butter. Therefore, no starvation. And that's your answer if asked. As for food getting stuck in her teeth, if her contacts are not tight, and food is getting jammed up there, the pain can be terrible. It's worth having her teeth and gums examined by a dentist. That aside, however, I'm going to answer a question you haven't asked. Yes, you need some respite, and you need professional help caring for your mom's needs. I'm so sorry your siblings are no help. I'm in the same boat. My sister is non-existent in the sense of providing any care at all. If your mom is living with you, with only social security, she will likely qualified for Medicaid. If she is not on Medicaid now, look into getting her on Medicaid. This will only help if her needs increase past the point hat you are able to handle. Whatever her insurance, you should look into "respite" care offered by many nursing homes. That is where you admit your parent to a nursing home for anywhere from 3 to 30 days so that you can get some relief. While your mo is there, they will take care of everything: feeding, bathing, meds. If there is a medical issue, they are medical people and they will address. A nursing home social worker can also be a great resource for next steps. I would recommend that you do some research, find some good nursing homes, take tours, and talk to them about respite care. For you, I would recommend 30 days. Spend the first 7 sleeping. I don't think you can sustain this indefinitely, and although we haven't met, we're two people in similar boats, and I'm concerned about you. Good luck and please keep us posted. If you need tips evaluating nursing homes, private mail me.
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I would get your mom to the doctor immediately. It sounds as though something has changed. Is it possible she's had a stroke?
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BurnedOut555, I know how tough it can be when we don't understand the last phase of life. To us it doesn't make sense. I am seeing my Mom go through this the past 3 months.... she will stop eating, even refusing Boost.... then she will decide to eat, but I really don't think it is a "decision" but the body wanting food... month later she has stopped eating once again.

As for taking pills, try crushing the pills [if crush-able] and put them into either apply sauce or ice cream. With the Ensure, try adding it to a glass of ice. My Mom didn't like the taste, she would say "too sweet" from her now limited communication, and one of the nurses at the facility tried the ice and it worked for my Mom.

And don't forget that with dementia the mind isn't thinking clearly. My Dad is now showing more signs of dementia and his mind will become stuck on one subject.... like your Mom's mind is stuck on feeding the pets, and in a month or two, she will be stuck on something else.
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I don't have any real suggestions but one aspect that really "jumped" out at me is that she is as you say literally starving herself to death, and you have knowledge of it, even though you've attempted unsuccessfully to address it.

An outsider, meddling neighbor, or mandated reporter might not see it that way, thinking that you are aware of her starving but aren't doing anything about it.

You need to think about protecting yourself from any charges. I would start contacting her doctors, county social workers, Area Agency on Aging, and ask what you can do about her deliberate starving. I don't mean to sound cruel or unduly upset you, but outsiders can be judgmental and cause problems for a caregiver.

You don't want to have to deal with elder abuse charges as well as all the other issues you're facing now.
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