Dad Has Dementia

Week 4: Feeling Like a Failure as a Caregiver

Last updated: Feb 05, 2010


The word I'm looking for is perseverate. Strictly speaking, it means to repeat something over and over. But I think it also applies in terms of having a mental fixation. And what Dad fixates on is Mom.

On a recent evening, I sat on the edge of the bed, gently rubbing Dad's back as he wept. "You just don't know how much I love her," he said, referring to Mom. "If she doesn't come back to me, I don't know what I'll do. I really don't know."

There's nothing I can say to this. His feelings are rooted in false perceptions, and past experience tells me any attempt to reassure him will be rebuffed. If I say, "Mom will be coming back, Dad," he'll reply, "You don't know her like I do. I just know I'll never see her again. And that will break my heart." If I ask, "What makes you think Mom isn't coming back?" it will open a can of worms that leads to a long rant by Dad about how badly Mom has treated him over the years, how she doesn't love him, and how she presumably is carrying on affairs with other men now that Dad is out of the picture.

That he loves Mom is evident in his tears. He's like a lovesick "“ yet paranoid "“ adolescent: besotted, but doubting his lover's fidelity. His pain and anguish are real, but they're based on a false sense of reality.

I know it's fruitless to try to reason with a person who has dementia when he's in a delusional state. As often as possible, I try to simply go along with whatever Dad's reality happens to be at the moment. But it gets hard when he's delusional about my mother. I often feel the need to defend her, to convince him his beliefs are unfounded.

And this problem comes up every day because Dad's delusions never change. When it comes to his perceptions about Mom, Dad is like a broken record.

We've covered, multiple times, Dad's fear of abandonment; his fear that Mom doesn't love him; his mistaken impression that she needs psychiatric help "“ or even to be institutionalized; his incredulity that she won't share a bed with him (they've slept separately for 15 years); his inability to get Mom to "act normally;" and several others. Every day, he brings up at least one of these issues. And every day, we're unable to resolve it.

It's very frustrating.

I realize it's not Dad's fault. It's the disease process of dementia. Many people with dementia suffer from various levels of paranoia and become fixated on a specific person, object, phrase, or whatever. Intellectually, I understand this.

That doesn't help me emotionally, however, when Dad is sitting on the side of the bed weeping, and I feel powerless to console him. In fact, my inability to help him often makes me feel as if I'm failing as a caregiver.