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My mother had always been one of the kindest people you would ever meet. She had so, so many friends, family all love her dearly, and she was never rude or disrespectful of anyone. She now has a lot of the symptoms of early dementia, and can at times be rude and hurtful. One of the things she has started doing is not treating my wife nicely. When they greet or leave, she was always a hugger. If at a family gathering, we always hug when we arrive or leave. My mother has started refusing to hug my wife, and it is very hard to see. My wife has worked hard to let it go, but at times it is really hurting her. It is now at the point where it is hurting me badly to watch my wife cry afterward. My wife continues to forgive her, but it seems we should not let her “get away” with poor behavior like this.


How can we address this? When inappropriate relationship behavior is there, should it be addressed directly?

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Your wife has done nothing to offend your mother. Make it clear to your wife that this is so, and that her being excluded from your mother's embraces is the result of one filter or another gone missing, or one connection or another misfiring.

But your wife is still responding appropriately by being sad. God knows, this is sad. It would be a good idea to read up on dementia, especially its more challenging aspects, and prepare.

What you need to drop immediately and forever is that idea of correcting your mother's "poor" behaviour. She's not "getting away" with anything. Her brain is disintegrating. Respond to incidents like this in sorrow and not in anger. Don't rebuke her or challenge her - go round the problem.

One way to look at it is to imagine what your "real" mother's feelings would be about the way she is behaving now that she's lost her internal guide, and remember that the real person is not like this.

If it gets much worse - I hope it won't, but it may - then support your wife in putting boundaries in place so that she isn't forced into painful or humiliating encounters. For example, if your mother begins to make unkind personal remarks - again, I HOPE this won't happen, it's just an example - then it needs to be fine for your wife to avoid being out with her in public, or to leave the room, or to do whatever she needs to do not to have to listen to that kind of thing. You can't change your mother's behaviour, but that doesn't mean your wife just has to suck it up.
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DennisRice Aug 7, 2019
Thanks for taking time to reply, all good advice. So hard to see such a great woman be so uncaring!
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Why is crying not the correct response? It hurts.
But no one is at fault. And no one can fix this. It is, as we on the forum always say, not your mom speaking now, it is the disease.
What you need to do now is accept that. Don't pretend it doesn't hurt. Don't pretend it is not worth crying over. Go ahead. Weep. It clears the head, it washes out the soul.
No, you don't address a broken mind. It is broken. It cannot be helped. There are currently no answers for it. What you DO do is sit together and discuss together what you each are capable of doing moving forward for Mom, for you are losing the person you knew before your eyes, and you will be left with a diagnosis that looks a lot like your Mom used to look. And you will still have to function best you can in her protection without breaking both yourselves and your marriage.
So there is no option but to accept. If anyone needs help then seek it with a licensed social worker trained in dealing with life changes. Talk together. Accept your honest reactions to pain. The honest reaction to pain is to cry.
Next, sit together and discuss what you each are willing to do moving forward, what if and when. DO NOT attempt to take on the 24/7 care of this woman, as that is what will soon be needed if it is not now. Live your lives the best you can, being the good and decent people you are in the midst of a terrible terrible disease.
So sorry for all the pain. Be easy on yourselves. Be gentle on yourselves. Recognize your limitation.
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DennisRice Aug 7, 2019
Working on introducing the idea of assisted living, but it will be an uphill battle. One day at a time.
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None of us really know for sure what happens in the mind of someone suffering from dementia, and although there is increasing research, the ramblings of the healthy mind should indicate how tragically the inexplicably damaged mind must search in vain for the information and connections that served it well in its healthy past.

What I have done for years, and what has always served me when dealing with those whom I loved so dearly when they were well, is IGNORE, and if this fails, to continue to ignore.

Your dear mother’s brain is now broken beyond repair, and I know of no test that can reveal a single strategy for reclaiming what was lost. You see her lack of hugging as something she somehow chooses as a reaction to your wife.

If that were so, there would be specific strategies for you to employ to remind her of the kindness and comradeship she experienced with her DDIL in the past. Sadly, it is not so.

”Forgiving” her is important for your wife.

“Ignoring” your mother’s negative conduct is a gift that you may choose, if you decide to, to give to your mother. As the disease process continues, she may treat your wife more warmly, or perhaps not. But in loving her, you must address her just as she is.

This is a disease of tragedy and generosity and loss and compassion. Most of us here are veterans in this war. and we understand how you’re feeling.
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DennisRice Aug 7, 2019
Thanks so much for the veteran advice. Each day brings a new question we have a hard time answering, so much appreciate the help.
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Have you tried asking your mom if she is upset with your wife? I would just approach it as, "mom I noticed that you are not hugging DW and I was wondering if everything is all good?"

If it is the dementia, she probably won't have a clue. Which if frustrating because we like to know what is going on.

Encourage your wife to do some research on dementia and the behaviors that you can expect, it will help her understand that it is nothing personal and she won't feel as hurt. I know that when a great hugger stops hugging you it is a loss and she is justified in a few tears, grieving for that loss. You will all find that you are loosing your mom one brain cell at a time and that is why it is called the long goodbye. You loose parts and pieces of your loved one everyday it seems and you grieve those changes as they happen, it is a gut wrenching journey for everyone.

I am sorry that your wife seems to be the 1st one and that your family is facing this. Give your wife a hug and this website. It will help her find peace with her new roll.
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Takincare Aug 6, 2019
I agree to ask mom whats going on, if DW "said or did something " sometimes the answer may surprise you, eg she made me take my cane with me into the store. They fixate on things. If it's early on in her long road she may make sense of her twisted thinking. I have found in my personal experience with MIL, focus is on her son and daughters, I am her main caregiver and am also the one who she treats poorly. Unfortunately they tend to abuse the ones who do the most for them. Right now it's withholding affection, when the verbal abuse and meanness begins you will have to grow a suit of armor around your heart to protect your feelings. Cry, its good to release stress. Not easy to travel down this road but travel it many do. She may be frustrated because she realizes something is not quite right but not sure what it is. They go thru denial and anger, needing to lash out at someone. Pretending that they are still ok and able to fully function, that they're "still with it", and able to fool some for short periods of time is the norm. Took a bit but hospice nurse, cna, and social worker see it now because it's harder to keep up the charade and remember everything.
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There is no rhyme or reason to this desease. Telling Mom she hurt ur wifes fillings probably will be forgot in a few minutes or the next day. Your Mom is entering her own little world. The brain is undergoing changes. Right now ur Mom may see ur wife as a threat. They cling to the one they know, their child. I found my Mom lost her reasoning. Then her ability to process. We had a friend put in a walk in shower for her. He was so happy with the result but Mom acted like she didn't realize it was for her.

I agree u and wife need to get more info on this disease. Call ur local hospital and see if they provide Seminars. One of our local ALs does and all r welcome. There is a video on utube under Alzhemers. Look for the yellow brain. It is about ALZ but my Moms Dementia followed it pretty closely.

Your Moms brain is dying. She cannot be held responsible for what she says or thinks.
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DennisRice Aug 7, 2019
No rhyme or reason is right. Just sadness with moments of clarity. One day at a time!
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You may not be able to change any of mom's behavior--but remind your wife that she did, at one time, have a sweet relationship with your mother and nothing can take away from that.

My MIL has hated me and has been verbal with this since before DH and I got married. I thought time would soften her. Nope, It has gotten so bad I cannot even be in the same room with her--she'll start in on me. (Early dementia now, so she doesn't even have a filter left to keep her from saying nasty things to me in front of anyone).

Your wife DID have a good relationship. She needs to hang on to that. And if she needs to cry, to mourn the loss of that, let her. It's OK to feel bad when sad things happen.
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DennisRice Aug 7, 2019
Remembering the good times is even more important as new challenges arise. Thanks for the reminder, and hope your MIL sees new light one day.
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Dennis, just a thought, maybe your Mom could be dealing with an Urinary Tract Infection. Such an infection can cause all types of strange behaviors in us seniors. It is really worth having Mom tested, and if it is an UTI, that can be cleared with antibiotics. If the behavior remains afterwards, then you know for sure that it is the broken brain reacting.
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DennisRice Aug 6, 2019
Good to know — thanks for that suggestion. Will definitely have that checked.
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Dennis said "So hard to see such a great woman be so uncaring!"

Dennis, this is where YOU & your wife MUST adjust YOUR thinking.

Your MOM "IS NOT" being uncaring - - her brain is BROKEN - - the previous connections ARE NOT THERE all the time - - AND your mom CAN'T HELP IT.

In some ways, she's NOT your mom any longer - - she may LOOK the same, but it's NOT HER...

One of the real sadnesses of this dis-ease is when they have LUCID MOMENTS - - then we can fall into the trap of thinking, believing and/or hoping that the condition will stabilize, reverse - - that the afflicted will "get better". Not gonna happen.

As caretakers of our LO's, we have to be brutally honest with ourselves - - there's only same, worse or "worse-er" and WE have to learn to atribute their behaviors to a different set of definitions.
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I encourage you to watch Teepa Snow on you tube discuss dementia and all that goes along with. The hurtful words are explained. It’s very helpful!
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gdaughter Aug 9, 2019
Teepa, our heroine!
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i have seen elders start to see their spouse when they look at their own children. She could see you as her husband or boyfriend and your wife as the "other woman."
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kimberlitas Aug 8, 2019
My thought also.
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