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When I return, she cries uncontrollably and won't let go. How can I help her understand I need a break sometimes?

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The first week I lived with my mother with dementia I would leave her alone for a couple hours at a time and realized real quick I couldn't do that because she would call all the siblings and act like I was gone for days,, she lost her concept of time right away.
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It sounds like your mom's brain has definitely been affected by her strokes. Her behavior is what you'd see from a toddler who can't understand that mom and dad are coming back. I don't think she can help it. I would agree to get her checked out to see if anti-anxiety meds might even her out a bit.

Since she's acting in a similar way to a child, I would consider making her a card or for every day that you're gone, telling her what you'll be doing that day and counting down the day you'll be back. Kind of like an advent calendar for children. Just something that connects her to you while you're gone that helps her understand that you're coming back and includes her in your trip.
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Your mother needs love and reassurance. You had every right and need to get some time away. She is "blaming" you for leaving by being so upset. Try to forgive her and let go of any guilt you are feeling. Guilt will stop you from feeling and showing love. Don't worry about being right. Just love her with a clear conscience.
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She would have had a brain CT last year when she had a cerebral hemorrhage, and should have another done now, the fall suggests another stroke. Compare the two images, ask the neurologist to show you them and explain what areas of the brain have been affected. She may need anxiety meds.
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I think that the three strokes and the hemorrhage have taken their toll. Cognitively healthy adults do not carry on this way. So poor Mom has some special needs. I doubt that she can help being needy.

You certainly need time to yourself, and you don't have to justify your trips to her. Whether she gets it or not, you are entitled to go away for several days.

Do what you can to minimize her anxiety. Comfort her when you return. Go with a clear conscience.

Is it possible that Mom needs a little more supervision than independent living provides? Might she be ready for assisted living?
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Who took care of her while you were gone? If she was alone, she might have been afraid she'll be alone forever if you're gone.

If she had a caregiver while you were gone, ask that person what she was like while you were gone and how they explained your absence. If she was OK while you were gone, I suspect she's laying a guilt trip on you.

You said she doesn't have dementia, but have you asked a doctor recently? If she's had three strokes and a brain hemorrhage, she might have vascular dementia, which is basically brain damage to cognitive areas of the brain by a clot or bleed or other damage. No doctor ever diagnosis that word to me when my husband's major stroke left him with cognitive trouble, but it turns out he has it.

Your mom might have damage in the area of the brain that controls understanding future activities and sense of time. If her sense of time was damaged, it might seem to her that you were gone forever, instead of three days. In that case, you can prepare a calendar where she can cross off each day you're going to be gone and see when you'll be back. We do that for my husband when I'm off on respite vacations.
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No dementia. Has had 3 strokes over her lifetime. Cerebral hemmorhage last year, bad fall this year. She does understand but is so upset when one of us is not available.
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Does Mom have dementia? Her behavior seems like she doesn't understand what is going on.
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