My father is getting overwhelmed with mother's care -- what should we do?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 28, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

I am trying to figure out what stage of Alzheimer's my mother is in. She was diagnosed 5 years ago, she is still talking and walking. She needs help with her hygiene and clothes, medications. She repeats things often, in a short period of time. She spends a lot of her time looking at old photo's and crying. She is very resistant to any changes in her schedule. She has to be reminded to eat and drink and often confuses images of her children with one another. She is often confused about where she is going or where she is. My father is currently her major caretaker. I know it is hard to predict the rate of progression, I guess what I am asking is should I be looking into a better arrangement for her as my father is going to be overwhelmed fairly soon.

Expert Answers

Kay Paggi, GCM, LPC, CGC, MA, is in private practice as a geriatric care manager and is on the advisory board for the Emeritus Program at Richland College. She has worked with seniors for nearly 20 years as a licensed professional counselor, certified gerontological counselor, and certified geriatric care manager.

What 'stage' of the disease your mother is in is not the issue; your question is, How long will this go on? How long will she live? Researchers believe that the average length of the course is about 18 years, but that varies wildly from one individual to another. Since your mother is walking and talking and eating, she is in the mid-stage, and might live a long time.

No one wishes their mother dead. But it is likely that you wish this ordeal to be over, not only for the sake of your family, but also for her. Don't beat yourself up about this. I think it is loving, not to wish this decline into a living death will go on many years. Unfortunately, the only way it will end is with your mother's death.

As the disease progresses, the body becomes more susceptible to infection. The most common causes of death of dementia patients is infection, often a kidney or lung, pneumonia. One thing you can do is to ask that your mother not be given antibiotics if she develops a urinary track infection on pneumonia. If she recovers on her own, fine. If she doesn't, then she dies quickly, relatively painlessly, with dignity, rather than curled in a fetal position, in diapers, unable to eat and not recognizing anyone or responding to the world.

This is a difficult decision, and should be made after discussion with the family. The discussion should center on what is best for your mother, how she would prefer to be treated, and what is best for your family.