How can I support my husband in caring for his dad with dementia?

3 answers | Last updated: Jan 28, 2011
A fellow caregiver asked...

my father-in-law had a small stroke about 5 years ago.  He got really lucky and the only thing it seemed to have affected was his sight perception, or so we thought.  Now he seems to have some dementia going on and my husband is caring for him at home.  His dad is now having delusions and is paranonoid about the neighbor he's never met trying to take over everything he owns.  He even wants to call the law on him.  My husband gets upset because it's not real and he can't get his dad to believe him, He's even having to crush his meds and put it his food because dad refuses to take it.  How can I help them both from getting worked up and mad at each other?

Expert Answers

A social worker and geriatric consultant who specializes in dementia care, Joyce Simard is based in Land O' Lakes, Florida, and in Prague. She is a well-known speaker and has written two books, one focusing on end-of-life care and the other, entitled The Magic Tape Recorder, explaining aging, memory loss, and how children can be helpers to their elders.

Your father-in-law needs a complete psychiatric assessment immediately. It appears that the medications he is taking are not effective. Use the "fix the problem" approach to dealing with his perceptions. If he thinks the neighbors are out to get him, for example,  let him know that you are taking care of the situation for him. Whatever the problem, let him know you are taking care of it  -- then try to change the subject. You cannot reason with someone who is having delusions.  

Community Answers

Howcoolrutoday answered...

As someone with a first-hand perspective, I will tell you that the father-son relationship can diminish rapidly depending, somewhat, on the lifetime relationship that existed PRIOR to the stroke. I am an only child - father also had a mild stroke 5 years ago and has ALSO developed dementia within the last year. He rapidly regressed to the emotional and logical state of a child feeling entitled to do ANYTHING he wanted without consequence - paranoia inclusive. In the end, I had to have him assessed twice (psych evals), painfully declared incompetent, and assigned a guardian (for now). Your husband must come to terms with the realization that the father he once knew, is or will be, sadly, not the same man. Your father-in-law's BASE behaviors will likely become more prominent (hopefully he was a "good" man) and his judgment increasingly impaired. If your husband can not come to terms with this (sooner than later) the emotional drain of almost daily frustration, denial, and worst of all, growing hatred, will eat away at him. The rage you witness between them will not die easily (Google "Intermittent Explosive Disorder" for example). I strongly suggest YOU assist by getting 3rd party "therapy" for your husband "“ just the act of displacing frustration will help clear his head and put "things" in perspective "“ hopefully. You can NOT be that person "“ you are likely too close to the situation and it will also negatively impact YOU and your relationship with your husband - as I'm sure it has already to some extent. This is not an easy situation and there are no clear-cut answers but collectively you must prevent your father-in-law from hurting himself (e.g. driving away on a "whim"), unintentionally hurting others, and just as importantly, not making the TWO OF YOU feel guilty for not knowing exactly what to do and when to do it. Take each day as it comes and just try to do the "right thing" while planning for various "contingencies" in advance.

1019wolfram answered...

Your father-in-law sounds like my dad. My father has had alzheimers for around 2 years now. He is paranoid and doesn't trust me or mom sometimes. He asked me if my father died. That was tough. We are in the process of getting dad to daycare (to give mom and me a break). I live in basement, they live on 1st floor. My father is 85 and a stubborn german already. He used to be a happy laughing kind of guy. Now he is bitter, frustrated and seems like a whole different person. I suggest you and your husband go to a support group to share your experiences with others in the same boat. I go to 2 different groups and they help tremendously. At first I just cried now I am able to help some other people. Important to reassure your father that he is safe and you are looking out for him. In his mind he is a 5 year old little boy. I know it's hard to hear but true. Hug him, love him and try to make the best one day at a time. I'll pray for you. Take care! Joan Huxhold from Chicago