How can I help my mom with dementia when she thinks Dad left without kissing her goodbye?

2 answers | Last updated: Sep 27, 2016
Dodgepot asked...

My mum recently moved into a care home, due to my elderly father being now unable to care for her. Having been very happily married for 64 years, mum has started having delusions around my dad leaving her without kissing her goodbye..something he would never ever do! (these occur even if dad has not visited her) Mum then goes around the home searching for him, getting quite distressed in the process. I would really appreciate any advice on how best to manage this recent behavior. Many thanks

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.

I'm sorry to hear of the challenges you're facing regarding your mother's delusional behavior. Unfortunately, delusions are often part of the illness of dementia, and there's really no way to explain to your mom the reality of her concerns as her ability to think rationally has been compromised.

My suggestion is to have a meeting with the care staff and agree to help your mom by both redirecting her focus and the use of "little white lies." When your mother starts searching for your dad, she should be approached with comments that redirect her to other issues, such as, "Would you like to go to the music room?" or "Did you have a snack yet?" Any questions that will make her change her thought process away from what is distressing her will be helpful.

The "white lies" can be as innocuous as telling your mom that your dad will be back soon to kiss her goodbye, but he had to run an errand, or that he will call her later to tell her he loves her. Also of great importance is constantly reassuring her that her husband loves her and he'll see her soon to give her the "missing" kisses.

At issue here is not trying to convince your mother that she's forgotten or that she's wrong "“ that's just not a good use of time or energy for either her, you or the staff "“ but to change her focus to anything other than what is distressing her at the moment.

Patience and consistency are the key requirements that you and the staff will need to help establish a pattern of redirection that will benefit your mother. People with dementia, at times, have the ability to zero in and hold onto an issue. For them it can be difficult to let go of the irrational thought.

If the behavior persists and escalates to where her distress borders on extreme, talk to her doctor about anti-anxiety or anti-agitation medicines that can be given regularly or as needed to help your mother relax and diminish her concern over the imagined "missed" kiss goodbye from her husband.

Be patient. With memory loss the disease will, unfortunately, progress to a point where even this behavior will change and the issue of the "missed kiss" will also be forgotten. In the meantime, do what you can to help mom is reassure her, tell how much she is loved, and when necessary, help her refocus. Good luck.

Community Answers

Dodgepot answered...

Hi Ron. Thank you very much indeed for your informed advice which I'm sure will be very helpful to me, my family and the staff. It is really reassuring to know that there is help out there in managing mum's behaviour in respect of these delusional episodes. Your insightful comment re. people with dementia having the ability to 'zero in and hold onto an issue', finds clear resonance with my mother's presenting behaviour. I will try the refocusing strategy and, of course, continue to tell her how much she is loved. I appreciate your time. Thanks.