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wondering about step mom
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DianeR01 posted:
My dad and step mom are both 85 years old and have been married for about 25 years. My step mom has always been the more agressive person in the relationship and has pushed dad around for a long time. Then again, dad has let himself be pushed around.

Dad was diagnosed with dementia about 10 years ago and my step mom has used that as a weapon against him for a long time. There are times now he needs prompting to tie shoes or zip his zipper but generally functions ok. The other day I called home and my step mom said, that dad would call back in a little bit because they were eating lunch. Ok, no problem. Then she added, "You know your dad eats more than me." I was a little dumbfounded and answered "ok" I didn't want to give her statement any power because in the big scheme of things it was pretty meaningless. For whatever it is worth, they are both of an appropriate weight.

So here is my question, are these snitty little remarks a passive-agressive thing on my step mom's part or could it be a sign of dementia in her because she doesn't know what else to say? Or do I just need to get over it?

I would appreciate any thoughts.

di
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cjh1203 responded:
Hi Diane-

I'm sorry it's taken a while for you to get a reply -- it's been pretty quiet here recently.

I can't even begin to figure out what your stepmother meant by your dad eating more than she does. Could she be hinting that she needs more money? I think that, for now, I'd probably just let it go.

You said that she has used his dementia as a "weapon" against him. Could you elaborate a little? Sometimes, what may seem mean to others is what's necessary in caring for a dementia patient. The patients can be extremely difficult to deal with, and even violent, and can be very resistant to things like bathing, getting dressed, eating, etc. It's rarely productive to try to reason with them, because they aren't able to process things logically. Often, the only way to get them to do something is to be firm about it, like you would be with a stubborn child.

Especially if you aren't able to be around your father and stepmother a lot, it's hard for you to really know what she may be dealing with in trying to care for him -- it can be the most frustrating, heartbreaking, thankless and isolating job in the world.

I can't really answer your questions, I'm afraid, but I would suggest that maybe you try to observe them as closely as you can for a while. It could be that your father is worse that you realize, and that your stepmother is really suffering with the stress of taking care of him. Does she get much help with him? Of course, it's possible that she may also be developing dementia, so that's another reason to sort of keep an eye out. Spouses of people with Alzheimer's are much more likely to develop Alzheimer's themselves, so the possibility can't be dismissed.

I hope you'll continue to come back here and let us know how things are going. You might also get in touch with your local Alzheimer's Association and talk to someone there, or join a support group. They can be a tremendous source of information and help.

Best wishes.

Carol
 
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DianeR01 replied to cjh1203's response:
Thank you for your speedy reply cjh!

I live a long way away and even though I speak with them several times a week, I do not know everything that happens.

Please, don't get me wrong, I am not looking to vilanize my stepmom, and I also realize much of what goes on between them is a two way street and she is reacting to what he says or does.

My step mom will use the dementia as a weapon by saying things to dad like, " No you can't drive because the doctor said you will get lost." The next day she will want to go shopping or visit her sister and tell him to drive her there because she doesn't like to drive. Dad will admit to having gotten lost a few times and if I had my druthers he wouldn't be driving, nor would she. Unfortunately I live 2000 miles away. I suppose weapon is a strong word, control is more like it. They have a pretty robust support system around them and my stepmom's daughter and adult grandchildren have treated dad like gold. Both of them have siblings and a church family and are still pretty active.

I really appreciated your thoughts, we are also caregivers of an in-law who has alzheimers and there are new challenges every day.

I guess I really needed to think out loud to someone. Thank you, again!

di
 
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cjh1203 replied to DianeR01's response:
Hello again, Di. I hope it didn't sound like I thought you were villainizing her -- if so, I'm sorry. If you're taking care of someone with Alzheimer's, then you certainly do understand what your stepmother is dealing with, and I'm glad she has so many people to support her.

It's hard to understand why she would have your father drive when he has gotten lost, and his doctor has said he shouldn't be driving. Even if she can give him directions, if he's had dementia for that long, he can't be safe on the road. If she shouldn't be driving, either, are you close enough to her daughter and grandchildren to discuss it with them, and try to come up with a way to get them off the road? This discussion might be of some help to you.

I think that taking away the car keys must be one of the most terrible moments in Alzheimer's, for everyone involved. From what I've seen, though, the turmoil lasts for a short time and then gets use to whatever the new arrangements are.

It must be very difficult to be so far away, but it has to be comforting to know that there are so many people around him who are helping with his care and support.

I hope you'll continue to post here. It has been very quiet in the past couple of months, but I check in every day, and Dr. Judith London is often here, too.

Best of luck with all of this -- you have a lot on your plate.

Carol
 
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DianeR01 replied to cjh1203's response:
Carol,

thank you for your thoughts, after rereading my post, I thought I souded a little harsh.

I deal with my own guilt being so far away but this is a decision I made a long time ago and would be difficult to change now. I am grateful for my step family as they have been very good to the folks.

di
 
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Judith L London, PhD replied to DianeR01's response:
Hi Diane and Carol,
It sure is unsettling to be so far away and wonder what is actually going on. If you can start a dialogue with your step-Mom's family, and ask to be included in their email communications, you will get a more accurate picture of what's going on. One of them should accompany both of them in the car when your Dad is driving to see if he drives safely when your step-Mom gives directions and to observe their interactions. You could also find out if your step-Mom belongs to a support group to ease the stress. It's hard to be the primary caregiver 24/7. If your step siblings need help, confer with them to consider a care manager to ease the burden and observe how your parents are managing. If your Dad is an unsafe driver, discuss how to make alternate driving arrangements for them both.

There may be some way you could do some of the footwork despite the distance, and that may ease some of the guilt.
Check with your step-siblings to see if they have a suggestion.

Keep us posted,
Judy


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