“My Dad Has Dementia-He’s Being Horrible to Me!”

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I’m hearing this same painful thing a lot lately.

Aging parents who have “early dementia” are refusing help and verbally abusing their adult kids who are trying to help.

In all these situations, the aging parent was a controlling type person before dementia developed. It could have been a business owner, a professor, a CFO of a corporation. The nearby adult child is is trying hard to protect mom or dad from himself or herself. The parent is uncooperative. In fact, in all these cases, the parent has turned on the very person who is trying to supervise, protect or otherwise do the right thing for Mom or Dad.

“You’re stealing from me!” is an accusation the adult children are hearing. (It’s not true in these cases. to which I’m referring) “You don’t care about me, you’re just trying to lock me up!” is another accusation.

This could be you. When your aging parent turns paranoid, accusatory, abusive and unreasonable, what can you do?

For the millions of adult children and spouses of loved ones with dementia, this scenario is real. Money is a focal issue, as your aging parent so often believes that someone is stealing his money. If there is a Durable Power of Attorney the parent signed some time ago, your parent becomes enraged and cancels it. (Unfortunately, until declared incompetent, they can revoke a DPOA).

Or, if they’re getting in trouble with money and the adult child tries to persuade them to sign a DPOA, they refuse. The parent is at risk for being ripped off because of poor judgment about money.

I’ll share with you the advice I’m giving to these exhausted adult children at AgingParents.com. It’s not easy, but we all have to have a plan in these very challenging situations.
First, try to get cooperation from your aging parent’s doctor. Because of confidentiality, the doctor can’t discuss your parent’s medical affairs without your parent’s permission. If you don’t have permission, you can still communicate with the doctor, even if he/she can’t respond. You can write to him or her.

I encourage adult children to jointly write a letter to the doctor explaining your concerns. E.g., “we’re all worried about Dad because he is verbally abusive, has made many mistakes with money lately and his behavior is erratic. Give an example or several. Have all involved sign the letter. The doctor is now on notice of the problem and may request an appropriate evaluation.
The doctor may be more persuasive than family in getting your elderly parent to accept help.

Second, if your aging parent is not only refusing help but is clearly unable to care for himself or herself, you can call a family meeting and brainstorm about the best way to approach your parent. Two heads really are better than one. One adult child may be able to get through to Mom better than anyone and it’s worth a try to make that person the kids’ emissary. If everyone in the family and perhaps a best friend is willing to approach your parent, you may be able to get your parent to accept that help is necessary.

Third, if your parent is in danger with extreme self-neglect and he or she has alienated the family with abusive behavior, you can contact your local adult protective services, part of the social services department. Report the self-neglect. Be specific about what you see at your parent’s home.

A social worker can investigate and sometimes, if your parent is truly a danger to himself, the county where your parent lives can begin guardianship proceedings. Contact your Area Agency on Aging for information if you’re not sure where to start. A guardianship attorney is a good source of information about this problem.

A word to you if you’re at your wit’s end with your aging parent: being a good daughter or son or other relative doesn’t mean you must wear a target on your back. You don’t have to tolerate continued mistreatment. Some aging parents can’t be managed by family. That’s ok. Professionals can do a better job with these extremely difficult aging parents who are just too much for you.

Your own health and peace of mind is every bit as important as your parents’ care. Separate yourself from whatever is causing you harm and let others care for your loved one.

And thank yourself for having the courage to admit your limitations.

Until next time,

Carolyn Rosenblatt,

AgingParents.com

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