Is it safe to give my mom with Alzheimer's back the use of her stove?

2 answers | Last updated: Sep 26, 2016
Mrsnut68 asked...

I am at the end of my rope, and hope to find some answers here. My family are caregivers to my mother-in-law in our home. She has been with us for 18 years (all but 2 years of our entire marriage), and we have been caregivers for various medical problems. She has been in mental decline for a very long time, but much more rapidly over the past 5 years or so. Her doctor has told me for years she has dementia.

For the last year or so, her mental function had gotten much worse. She was having trouble bathing and dressing herself, in addition to other symptoms. She could look outside, and not be able to tell you if it was day or night. She never knew what day or time of day it was, and if asked what year it was, she thought it was 1991. Her sleep patterns were badly interrupted, and she would often be up all night and sleep all day.

She was admitted to the hospital in April of this year, and the scenery change sent her into a real tailspin. We finally got a diagnosis, and they said it was Alzheimers. The doctor put her on Aricept. Shortly after her return home, the most scary incident happened. She wandered outside at 11 pm, sat in the chair outside her door, and proceeded to scream for my husband to bring the car and 'take her home'. She swore up and down he dropped her off 20 miles away and wouldn't come and get her. He couldn't reason with her at all, and it took us about 2 hours all told to get her back inside, cleaned up and settled back down.

After that incident, we decided it was time to change things. Her home health nurses and her doctor had told us for months we should take her use of the stove away (she has her own kitchen setup in her 'apartment' downstairs), and that she didn't need the Life Alert, because she never used it (couldn't remember she had it on). So we got rid of those things, and began trying to monitor her 24/7 with baby monitors, and companion services.

Within 4-5 weeks of being put on the Aricept, it's like her brain almost completely came back. She even remembers things that happened when she was so 'out of it' for months. I never thought she would remember any of it. Unfortunately, her previous bitter, hateful attitude came back with her brain. At least when she was out of it, she was a little nicer. She berates my children (especially my oldest son), and tells our neighbors and her friends horrendous stories of how we don't take care of her, don't feed her, etc.

I am literally at the end of my rope in this situation. My husband and I have 5 children ourselves that we home school, so it's not like I don't have anything else to do. I wrote all this background to it possible for us to give her back the use of her stove at this point? Her condition seemed so severe just a short time ago, so I don't know if it could possibly be safe, and I have no idea how long the Aricept might work. I am so tired of being belittled and made to look like the bad guy, because we've been trying to do what's best for her safety.

I don't want to deprive her of the stove if it's safe for her to use it. But, I'm also afraid if we give it back and have to take it away again later, it may cause even more problems.

Sorry this is so long. I just don't know where else to turn... There are so many issues involved here, but this is one I've been thinking about the most, because she is so livid about it. Thanks so much.

Expert Answers

Ron Kauffman is a certified senior advisor (CSA), senior lifestyle radio host, syndicated newspaper columnist, and the author of Caring for a Loved One With Alzheimer's Disease. In addition, Kauffman is also the primary caregiver for his mother, who has Alzheimer's.

Dear Incredible Caregiver:

If there is sainthood for caregivers, you'll definitely be in the running.

Here's my answer to your key question about giving the stove back to your mother-in-law. NO! Alzheimer's patients, even those on Aricept who have shown some improvement can be a danger to themselves and others. Since you are able to provide meals to her, the answer to her request for her own stove, based on her history is no.

Your mother-in-law has memory loss. It may be on a plateau or has shown some signs of having improved, but it will continue to decline because Aricept is NOT a cure, and the disease will continue its relentless march.

My reasoning for saying no about the stove is that you will not know if or when your mother-in-law might "forget" that she left the stove on, or burns a meal. Both of these can result in a fire that could endanger the entire family. In my mind, it's not a question of if there will be a problem with the stove, it's a question of when and how severe will the problem be if she has use of her own stove in your home.

You might consider a small microwave for her to reheat foods, warm soups or cook a microwave meal. While there is still a chance for error, the timer will shut off the microwave, typically after a matter of a few minutes of use. If you wish, you can have her use your stove when you have time to provide 100% supervision and be there to be certain it is used properly and turned off when done.

But don't allow her unsupervised access to your stove, ever. You have enough to be concerned about without worrying about a possible fire or injury to your mother-in-law.

One more note. You need a break. 18-years as a constant care provider, mother of 5, home-school teacher, and wife total up to be a major overload and potential threat to your physical and mental health. Add to that your mother-in-law's emotional abuse of you and the children, and you have a recipe for emotional damage to the children, increased conflicts with the family, and the potential to have her create a dysfunctional environment for the family.

If you can, talk to your husband about placing his mom in an assisted living facility to allow your marriage to enjoy some breathing room. Failing that, you need respite for yourself and some time to decompress - every week. The kids do not need to be berated, and your family doesn't need to have "stories" of abuse and mistreatment being told to neighbors.

There are a number of issues going on within your home, and the catalyst for most of the problems seems to be your mother-in-law. Ultimately, her disease will take away her memory, but it may not eliminate her negative attitude toward members of the family. Her decline will also result in increasing caregiving demands upon you. Unfortunately, there's no way to know how long this current behavior may continue until she finally loses the battle.

Please talk with your husband and family. Take steps to reduce the pressure that is building in your home and relationships. And under no circumstance give in on your decision to deny your mother-in-law a stove. That can only lead to trouble or a disaster that claims much more than a burned pot or pan.

Good luck with all of the many issues you're facing.

Community Answers

Mrsnut68 answered...


Thank you, thank you, thank you! I'm not so sure if I'd qualify for sainthood, because I sure haven't taken this whole situation very well. LOL

Thanks so much for your advice. I knew in my heart it would not be the right decision to give her back the stove, but it helps to have someone more experienced than I say so. She has a microwave she can use, so she is able to help herself that way, and she is unable to get upstairs to use my stove. Her stove doesn't have knobs on it any longer, and she doesn't know where they are, so she can't turn it on. It's just that the daily struggles of keeping my head above water make me question myself on a routine basis. My mother-in-law has always tried to be successful at keeping us in what she considers 'our place' with guilt and manipulation. You are very right to say most of the problems in our home are directly related to her and the stress associated with trying to care for her. Although I am very thankful that my children have not been rebellious, I feel like I have her as a rebellious child.

My husband is very much in agreement that we need to do something. We are somewhat stuck between a rock and a hard place, with her having few resources, but not little enough to qualify for Medicaid, and the question of how to actually get her into a facility. She has a very long list of serious health problems, most chronic, and her doctor thinks she is not a candidate for assisted living. They seem to be at a loss about how to get her into a facility, until some 'catastrophic event' happens to warrant moving her from a future hospital visit to a facility. We've been in this place for a very long time, and it seems that everything we try ends up in another dead end.

You are the first person that has ever given me the perspective that my family are the victims of abuse. As I look back over the years, I would have to agree. Yet, we have always felt obligated to look after her.

I attended an Alzheimer's caregiver support group today. My husband and I are going to start looking into facilities so we can make a decision about this, and then see what it will take to get her moved. I am intimidated by how I know she will hate and swear at us for putting her in a facility. But as you pointed out, at the rate we're going, the alternatives could be far worse, and I'm unwilling to continue living in a situation where I can no longer see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Again, thank you...your encouragement has been wonderful for me.