How do I begin to get help for my mother who may be suffering from Alzheimer's disease?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 27, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

I lost my Daddy almost 3 years ago. He was a very quiet, comforting man. He and my Mama were together 54 years. She always let her frustration out on him. By just yelling or complaining-that type of way. Since his passing, whether due to her grief or the beginnings of Alzheimer's or Dementia, I don't know, she has become so contrary. So paranoid of everything. My son, daughter n law and grandson live with her. She constantly thinks they are taking her home. They are not. She grows so angry without any reason. She will go for long periods and not talk to us. When we ask her if she is ok or if there is anything wrong, she gets upset with us and wants to know why we are asking. She has always been afraid of the dark and of storms. Now she goes into absolute panics. She cannot handle a window not being locked. Her house looks like Fort Knox. I am so frustrated. I don't know where to begin to find an answer. Thanks.

Expert Answers

Brenda Avadian, brings knowledge, hope, and joy to family caregivers for loved ones with Alzheimer's and dementia. She cared for her father with Alzheimer's and helps families one-on-one and in groups. She is the author of eight books, including the pioneering memoir "Where's my shoes?" My Father's Walk through Alzheimer's and the Finding the JOY in Alzheimer's series. She presents vivid, compelling, and funny keynotes to both professional and family caregiving audiences.

Caregiving is hard enough; when parent is negative, it makes for a toxic relationship. Your son and family are heroes for helping her.

From what you wrote, it appears that she has transferred her frustrations and even anger from your late father to her grandson and his family. This may be especially hard on your grandson. Depending on his age, he may not understand why great grandma behaves as she does.

As it is her confusion and fears have gotten the best of her and out of fear she lashes out at those she loves"”her family.

I would suggest the following"”

1. Schedule a medical evaluation for your mom at a geriatric care center or with a neurologist.

She may have the beginnings of dementia or even Alzheimer's. However, it could be a completely different cause; such as an imbalance in her current medications or depression due to long-term grief after losing her life partner.

2. Have patience and reassure her.

If she is having problems with her short-term memory, she may forget your reassurances that her grandson is not taking her home. You and your grandson will need to tell her repeatedly that this is her house. Maybe assuring her that he and his family are living there for mutual benefit"”to keep her company, while their son gets to know his great grandmama.

3. At nighttime and during storms, do for her what you would do for a frightened child.

Comfort her. Stay by her--even if she pushes you away. Her anger might be hiding fear.

Depending on your grandson's age, maybe you could ask her to comfort him during the storms to help her redirect her own fears toward protecting her great grandson.

As for being afraid of the dark, with her potentially diminished ability to reason, she may see her reflection in the window and fear it is an imposter watching.

Patience, regular assuring communications, and an initial assessment of her health are the first three steps.

As an ongoing source of help and to learn more about your mama's symptoms, sign up for's Steps and Stages program. It's a free virtual support group of fellow caregivers dealing with issues similar to those who mention and with additional resources to help you. Click on the orange "Get Started Now" button on the right side of the page.