This is one article in a series about long-term caregiving.
She was in counseling with me many years ago. Recently I received an email from her. A distressing email. Her mother now has Alzheimer’s Disease, and sometimes does not know her during her visits. She asked for suggestions.
Here is my modified email reply:
“You describe a painful reality. Tough. Challenging. Emotionally unsettling. Obsessionally draining.
Indeed a very new and disturbing time in your life. So much is happening that is unavoidable.
When the mind deteriorates, as you now experience with your mother, the usual control functions no longer are active and moderating what she says and does. Unpredictability becomes the norm. Conscious control is weakening. Not by choice. But by disturbed brain functioning.
As a result, you are not talking with whomever your mom was. She is no longer that person. Brain changes change the normal established personality. (Similar to the temporary effect of alcohol/drug ingestion.)
Unfortunately, you can not talk with her in the usual way. Reasoning does not happen. It is no longer the kind of conversation you are used to. She is different now.
Old and unsettled conflicts can resurface. Once formerly repressed, these old resentments and disappointments can rise up again. This is very disturbing. But, they are out of date in current time and circumstances. These will remain unsettled.
The healthiest thing for you to do is accept the reality that your mother is gone. Who you see now is a person whose brain is diseased, and whose personality is deteriorating into an unknowable and unreachable condition.
So, “bury” your mother, and do what you can for this new and “unknown” dependent relative. Accept and adapt to what you can not reverse. This is Alzheimer’s. It gets worse. Face this reality.
I recommend that you participate in a support group. It can be helpful. And it is a place where you can talk openly about the stress of the long term care of your mother. To find a local support group, contact the ALZHEIMER’S ASSOCIATION online.
In summary, accept that there is no way you can relate to your mother in a “normal” way. She can not do it. She is gone. Let her be. Be in grief. Be in your life now. Past is past. Live in the present.”
About the Author
Hugh Burns is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and an ordained clergyman in the PCUSA. Hugh graduated from Presbyterian College and Columbia Theological Seminary. He leads DPC’s Caregivers Support Group and has previously served as a Clinical Chaplain in a mental health center and a hospital. You can reach Hugh by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.