How do we communicate to my mother that her memory has declined?

5 answers | Last updated: Sep 22, 2016
Maria921 asked...

My mother has recently declined over the summer, she was only recently diagnosed last year and has gotten worse over the summer. We brought in a companion for her because she wasn't eating properly and not taking her medications, my aunt told me she admitted to throwing out her meds so we don't force her to take it. Now she is in denial and very belligerent when discussing her care. How do we communicate with her to make her understand that her memory has declined? She refuses to accept help and now denies that she has memory problems. How do we respond to this?

Expert Answers

Jytte Lokvig, PhD, coaches families and professional caregivers and designs life-enrichment programs and activities for patients with Alzheimer's disease and related dementia. Her workshops and seminars help caregivers and families create a healthy environment based on dignity and humor. She is the author of Alzheimer's A to Z: A Quick-Reference Guide.

Most of us wouldn't want to admit to ourselves that we're experiencing cognitive decline and are no longer capable of handling our affairs. Many folks in the early stages of dementia have told me that the single scariest aspect to them is losing their self-determination.

Your mom's resistance is a pretty normal reaction and if you want to help her, the smartest thing you can do right now is to avoid all references to memory-loss. Whether your mom "admits" her dementia or not doesn't change reality. You need to find a way to help her and to do so without appearing to be dictating to her. It's a matter of choosing your language carefully and picking your battles. It might help you to "walk in your mother's shoes." She does not want to surrender to this condition and everything you're suggesting to her confirms her fears. If she thinks her medication is related to her dementia, she may feel that as long as she doesn't take it, she's resisting the disease.

When you tell your mother that she needs help, you're confirming to her that she's losing control over her life. Instead, focus on her abilities and work on gaining her trust. Think of yourself as her "partner". When you sense you've regained your mom's trust, ask her opinion and listen to her suggestions while you brainstorm on compromises, like bringing in someone to do light housework, rather than being a full time companion. There's a difference between having a housekeeper and a caregiver.

Community Answers

Ge mom answered...

I have been struggling with this exact issue, and finally I realized that, if she could remember that she can't remember, she would not have dementia. So I agree with the above advice, don't waste time trying to get Mom to admit her issues, just put the help in place. Time is on your side, unfortunately it is not on Mom's side.

My mom refers to her caregiver as her 'housekeeper', and I don't really see any harm in that. I could get into an arguement with her about the fact that 'housekeepers' don't help with incontinence, but what's the point?

Elviraskin answered...

GE mom- Thank you, I could not have said it better!

Maria921 answered...

Thanks for your input. I am so new to handling this type of situation that I didn't know what position to take with her.

Daizie answered...

I also lived with this problem. Mom admitted her memory wasn't what it should be. She refused help and saying it was expensive. She fell and broke her hip and went to Rehab. Social Services then said SHE CANNOT LIVE ALONE ANYMORE. But she still refused home healthcare. She melted coffee pots, fogot to let the dog out to go. Her house smelled before she fell. From Rehab; I got her into an assisted living place with memory care and 24/7 nurses. She keeps asking when am I going home and are you here to take me home. When I say very plainly I cannot because you cannot walk or stand up yet and I cannot carry you; she answers; you put me in this home to get rid of me and I will never forgive you. She is getting therapy there sometimes twice a day with stimulators for her muscles and exercises. I am learning how to leave now w/o saying goodbye to her. She thinks I am going to her room for something and I leave. She has her own furniture, her own room and bath. the place is fantastic. They changed her meds and her mind is so much better and she looks great now. What a change from Rehab. day/night. I take part in therapy and recreation with her and help them out. I can eat with her alone or with the group and they have great food.
But I don't know what to really say when keeps saying are we going home now? Before she erupts.