My father with advanced dementia forgets he divorced my mother (over 25 years ago) He is obsessed with getting his family back together. He calls her so frequently, she has blocked him. He doesn’t understand why. He calls me often too, to ask about her, and why he has to live alone, without his family. How do I explain this to him, so he can understand, without destroying his world?

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Does he remember conversations from day to day? If not, tell him your mother has agreed to come back, but it’s going to take some time to get her affairs in order, pack, etc. Her phone has already been disconnected, but she’ll be there soon. It’s an awful lie, but the truth isn’t going to calm him, as he will never understand it. When they get agitated like this, all you can really do is try to step into whatever reality they’re living in at that moment and go with it. Say anything and everything. Whatever it takes to calm him. Also, talk to his dr about anxiety/depression meds. I am NOT a “drug ‘em senseless” kind of gal, but dementia seems to be a terribly distressing way to live. If I’m ever stricken with this horrible affliction and meds could help me live more peacefully, I’d want them all!!!
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Reply to FarmJelly

Yikes. Welp, one of the charge nurses at my moms MC had to play role of his mother on phone for quite awhile. It worked. She was long deceased.

I am so sorry. I don't know if helpful or not, but that's what she did.
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Reply to Segoline
worriedinCali Jan 18, 2019
Bless that woman’s heart! Therapeutic fib isn’t a bad idea.
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This obsession may tell you what decade he now lives in -- maybe around the time of the divorce, when he was disappointed they couldn't work things out, or maybe not too many years later when he realized there were aspects of the marriage he really missed.

Sometimes in advanced age, cognitively-intact people can obsess about 'making things right' or 'repairing relationships' before they die. Usually the people on the other side of those broken relationships have their own issues. Sometimes we can broker a conversation of mutual apology, sometimes not, but it's rare that a divorced spouse would want to 'come home' to live with the person again. And yet, so many elders imagine that this is what they want.

With dementia, the situation is different. There's still that late-in-life desire for making amends, but quite often their day-to-day (imagined) experience is back 40 years ago. Occasionally a long-divorced spouse is persuaded to come back for a visit, and the person with dementia doesn't recognize them - because this person looks 70 and the spouse they miss 'is' 30.

Even if you were able to make him understand that he was divorced, he would have trouble retaining that info ... and it doesn't solve the problem of wanting to rectify the situation.

Therapeutic fibs can help in the moment -- she went to the store, she's visiting her brother, she got a job on the other coast and won't be back til Christmas, or whatever.

But he probably also needs to move forward on whatever is underneath that desire for 'getting his family back together'. Can you -- or the facility chaplain, or a counselor -- help him express what he really wants? The underlying need could be forgiving himself for his part in the separation ... or it could be that he needs to forgive her for not being here with him now ... or it could be that he's lonely and misses the closeness he remembers (accurately or not). If the underlying need is not expressed, no amount of therapeutic fibbing will 'solve' the problem, even though it is enormously helpful in the moment. And even though I heartily agree that it's worth doing, over and over, in order to reduce anxiety and agitation.

If you can find the magic words to relieve the underlying need, this behavior can go away on its own.

It's a tough thing, even for folks who are cognitively present. Good luck!
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Reply to maggiebea


My Mom divorced my Dad after 25 yrs of marriage then married my Stepdad.

One day when I visited her NH she was agitated. She asked where my Dad and Stepdad were. They were both deceased. I ask her what the problem was. She said somebody needed to come pick up her 3 little girls me being one of them and one of my sisters deceased. That the 3 little girls were driving her crazy.

I told her my Dad was mowing the lawn and Stepdad was at the grocery store.

I told her I would take her three little girls home with me. She was fine with that. She said she needed to take a nap. I left trying to figure out in what realm Mom thought she, Dad and Stepdad were caring for her three little girls. She thought she, Dad, and Stepdad all lived together. The divorce was messy and Dad hated Mom and Stepdad. I had to sit in my car and clear my head before I drove off.

Lies, fibs whatever you want to call them by this point just came natural and rolled out of my mouth without much thought.

Your Dads mind is in a time pre divorce.
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Reply to lizzywho61
sunshinelife Jan 24, 2019
she is lucky to have such a loving dedicated daughter
My mom passed away almost 21 years ago. Dad woke up in September and demanded to know where she was! He probably had a TIA in his sleep because prior to that he remembered she was dead. Now, he at times thinks she left him. Back in the mid 70's she did contemplate divorce (his alcohol problem) but she didn't. It's difficult to know what to say to him. When he asked why she left I said I didn't know. He said he could understand her leaving him but not her kids. It was so sad. You cannot explain it so he will understand. He doesn't have the memory or ability to reason now. The therapeutic fib is probably your best bet but even that doesn't always work. Go back in time when your parents were married and try to concoct a story. Would your mom go visit her parents? or a sister? Perhaps saying she did that will help. But it seems like he has a "sense" that she is gone (why do I have to live alone?) . God bless you as you go through this difficult time.
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Reply to Janny61

I always made up a simple lie. The simpler the better for him to understand. Her phone lines don’t work, she has gone to visit friends. Along those lines. He won’t remember what you tell him and the next time you speak to him chances are he will ask again, after awhile this will stop because he will have moved onto different memory loop.
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Reply to Glendaj2

Could you phone your mother and ask her if she could find it in her heart to comfort him at this point. She married him because she loved him, and she would be blessed for providing comfort at this stage. She needs a 'story' about why she can't come now, and another story about why she can only talk on the phone at a particular time in the late afternoon (or whatever). It might help him, and possibly even her. I got closer to my first husband after he was dying of cancer than I had for 25 years previously. Knowing that the end is coming helps a lot to make old problems recede into insignificance.
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Reply to MargaretMcKen

Oh lordy, I hope I don't ask for my long-divorced husband (50 years ago)! To ask for my second, now deceased husband would be understandable, we were happy. My first husband now has Lewy Body dementia and is in nursing home, but as far as I know hasn't asked for me.....and we would not recognize each other as we haven't seen each other in 20 years.
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Reply to Arleeda

You can explain this to him so that he understands by reiterating his reasons for the divorce; and then you can do it again, and again, and again...

The point being that even if he could understand what has happened, he would not be able to retain that information.

Obsessed with getting his family back together... Is there anything you can do or talk to him about on that subject? Who else is there apart from you and your mother? Are there other family members you could talk about and divert his attention that way?
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Reply to Countrymouse
anonymous398954 Jan 22, 2019
Dear Country Mouse: With a dementia patient ... they do not have the capacity to "comprehend nor remember" explanations even after the explanations are repeated many times. That is part of the disease. It is good for families of dementia patients to "learn" about providing care for their loved one. There are learning opportunities available within cities, counties, and communities. An excellent learning opportunity I had the privilege to attend was "Virtual Dementia" presented by Department of Aging and Disability Services and Area Agency on Aging. It is a very good learning experience for all family members caring for dementia patients. When my husband with dementia would ask me the same questions ten times in thirty minutes ... I had "script answers" (canned replies) with which he was comfortable. NOBODY should EVER tell a dementia patient "I told you that five menutes ago" .. etc .. etc because "that answer" slipped into oblivian very shortly after it was spoken. That is just part of the disease and no amount of trying to help the dementia patient "remember" will work" (maybe for a few minutes or so) but they will continue asking the same questions. When my husband would ask about people who had died, I had a "script" ... example: Husband: "How's your mom and dad doing."... Me: "Mother and dad both lived a long and healthy life and they both passed away in their sleep." Husband: "I don't remember that ... why didn't anybody tell me they died?" Me: "Honey, you have been sick for a while and when we are sick, oftetimes we have temporary memory loss … and that's why that right now you don't remember some things .. but .. you are doing much better now and you are getting better and better every day .. and ... you are receiving the best medical care and treatment ... and one day soon you will remember things that you forgot when you were sick."
It worked like a charm …. every time … it was a logical and sensible "answer to his questions" and he was satisfied with it. However, often he asked the same question in 10 or 15 minutes so I gave him the same answer and he was satisfied with it. They need to feel that they are doing well and that they are loved.
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Distract, distract, distract. Fidget blankets, sports, news of other family members, crafts. You never know what will stick. Look up 100 things to do with a dementia patient.
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Reply to GranJan

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