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My mom lives in a nursing home. She has dementia. One evening I called her and she said "I'm scared". I didn't know what to do so I drove to the nursing home. When I went into her room she was sitting on her bed in the dark. It frightened me. She never told me what she was afraid of. I cannot talk to her about God...she is atheist. How do I deal with it if she says she's scared? It haunts me.

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One of my brothers had something similar happen. We were all raised in the church, but this one got into the sciences and only went to church because he sang, and was otherwise pretty much a skeptic. When he was disabled with Parkinsons', his caretaker, a preacher's daughter, would put him in his wheelchair and take him to church with her. Not long before he died, he did finally accept salvation; his DIL commented that it was a shame that he had to lose his intellectual edge first.
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No one is beyond God's reach. My mom cried out to God and accepted Him as Lord and Savior just ~5 months before she passed. Whenever I talked tip her or now with my dad, when there was a situation I would say I'm sorry, I'll pray for you. That way you arent compromising on your faith. Maybe God is working I he life and she's reaching out to you the only way sure knows how; admitting you were wrong is tough to do and baby steps (accepting the knowledge of your prayers) may be her first step. - Prays for all of us that care for a parent that doesn't believe.
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Nora, get mom a little nightlight. If you use a short fat flashlight with a wide bottom, it will last all night, or more, place it on facing the ceiling. Nothing too bright to shine in her eyes. We use small battery powered paper lanterns, sold around the holidays. Elderly lose vision, things look scarier in the dark.
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Thank you all so very much for your wonderful suggestions. I will try all of them. 💓💕💘💘
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You can certainly try to figure out what she is scared about. But she may not know, or may not be able to put it into words.
But even without knowing, you can reassure her that you love her and will take care of her and listen to what she needs. Knowing that someone cares and listens is very soothing.
As someone else suggested, you can also use music or soothing smells (like essential oils) to create a calm surrounding. Depending on her level of functioning - smell, touch and sound can reach someone when words don't work so well.

I wouldn't be concerned about her exact beliefs about God. Especially if she has dementia or impaired thinking. God is love - and if you are bringing love and compassion into her life - then you are bringing God's loving spirit to her - whether she is able to comprehend it that way or not.
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I know you said that your mom is an atheist. The state of your beliefs is not something that is set in stone. There have been many atheist who have turned to God when they are facing death. I did not have a relationship with Christ until I was in crisis in my life. I thought I had control over everything.if you don't feel comfortable talking to your mom about this perhaps there is a friend from your church or someone from hospice who could speak with her.
If you are okay broaching the subject, you could say, Mom I get scared all the time , mostly because I know I can't control things in my life. That is one reason that I have asked God to help me and take control so I don't have to worry. This might open a conversation which was planted by your faith a long time ago.
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Another thought - how long has she been at the nursing home? Is it possible she's still adjusting and that could be the cause of her fear?
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I should clarify one statement about calling at bedtime since you've already done that. I was thinking of a regular bedtime check-in at a certain time, every night.
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I think Jeanne's suggestion of vaildating her fear is excellent; she's scared and needs to know that someone is concerned. You might also ask a question as to what you think is scaring her rather than asking generally...i.e., I've found that asking questions such as "are you feeling well today" don't produce as specific answers as "how are your eyes (feet, legs, whatever) today?" Or, another way is " are your feet bothering you today? Are your legs bothering you today?"

In your case, you could ask if she's afraid of a storm (something general, then gradually work closer to something you think might be the issue), or is she afraid of being alone at night... It's one way of narrowing down the cause of the fear rather than asking a broader question - no criticism of Jeanne's suggestion. It was in fact her comments that gave me the ideas I just posted.

I'm wondering also if you could put on a gentle music CD for her when you leave, something to soothe her. There are specific relaxation CDs; I used to have a cassette of the sound of waves lapping on the shore. It was unbelievably relaxing.

If you have any of those scented herbal heating pads, you could leave one just for the fragrance rather than for any heat it provided. Photos of baby animals soothes and relaxes me.

What did she like and what soothed her before the dementia? Can you reproduce or integrate those things into her life?

Following up on Jessie's suggestion, can you visit when your mother could go to an activity, such as a crafts session, or a music session? If so, you could start a conversation with another woman and bring your mother into it. You may have to help her engage with others, but if you can help her build rapport with someone she may not feel so alone.

I remember also that my sister used to leave radios on classical music channels to provide "company" for her dogs when she left the house.

I would suggest a cell phone that she could use to call you, but it might be difficult for her to use. But do you think if you called her at bedtime, that it might help?

It's really heartbreaking to imagine her sitting in her room in the dark, afraid of we know not what.
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I wonder if this could be episodes of generalized anxiety. I have sometimes had moments of dread. I couldn't tell you what I was dreading but there was a pervasive feeling that something bad was going to happen. Fortunately this feeling did not last long (for me) and didn't happen often. There are anti-anxiety medications and that might be worth considering if the staff there feels that she is experiencing anxiety often. I wouldn't pursue this on the basis of one episode of saying she is scared, but it might be worth keeping in mind.
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Jeanne, thank you for caring. I need to try to get mom to tell me what she is scared of. I forget it may be something b simple. I assume it's fear of dying and with her bring atheist I just don't know what to say. It's scary for me too without God for comfort. I'm grateful I can drive there in a few minutes. Thank you again for your supportive comments. 💗💗💗
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I'd first acknowledge her feeling. "Mom, I feel scared sometimes. I think everyone does once in a while. It is not a pleasant feeling, is it?"

Then try to get specifics. "I am so sorry that you are feeling scared right now. Can you tell me what frightens you?"

She may not even know herself or may not be able to articulate it. But it would be helpful to know if she is scared of being in trouble because she knocked over a cup of coffee or she's scared of dying or she has just had an awful hallucination. If you can find out, that will help guide you to comfort her.

If you live close enough and these episodes are not constant, perhaps your response of going to be with her was the most comfort you could offer.
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Jessie Belle, thanks for caring. I have asked the night shift if they would please check on her, but I can't be sure they do. I can only hope. The saddest part of the dementia is that'd I never feel confident that mom is telling me the facts....she's confused. Mostly what I do is visit often, ask the staff for help, and pray she is cared for. The pain in my heart is great. Since there is no more I can do I just pray. I just wish I could think of some comforting statement to say to her to calm her down when she is scared. 😔
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Nora, this is a haunting picture. Does she have anyone there at the home to keep her company? What stage of dementia is she in? It seems that there would be someone around who would be available to calm her and let her know things were all right.

Let us know what happens. There has to be something that she will not feel so alone and afraid.
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