My Demented Mother-in-Law is Driving Me Crazy

by Linda Chamberlain

Maybe demented is not the right word. How will we ever know for sure?  My mother-in-law recognizes the entire family, remembers friends and deceased family, but has no idea what day it is, who the President is, and no interest in current events.

She is still able to be very selective in what she tells you and then calls a few hours later and says her husband is missing, she’s been looking all over for him in the Assisted Living facility and can’t find him anywhere.  Her husband passed away over six months ago.

We received the call Sunday, March 15th from the assisted living staff that today was our last day to visit due to coronavirus safety measures.  After that, no more visitation.  We immediately started a daily call-in schedule from friends and relatives to keep her socialization frequent.

If you’re in this situation too, check out our experts’ tips and download our free list of questions to ask the care facility when you can’t visit.

One Week in Caregiving: Coronavirus Isolation, a Crisis and Coping

Sit down, this is a long story.  I know you are supposed to make blog posts short, but this story covers over a week of incidents.  You may be experiencing something similar or worried about this happening. We hope sharing this story helps everyone in this situation.

Last week was tough. She woke up from her afternoon nap on Thursday and reports she was a little dizzy.  Unfortunately, as she stood and started walking with her walker, she fell backward and cracked her head open.  She pressed her emergency call button.  The aide found her lying on the floor with the walker on top of her and called for an ambulance.

My husband, her son and a physician, met her at the Emergency Room.  She was in a lot of pain, primarily from her left wrist.  A CT-Scan was completed, and her head wound was stapled.  Her wrist was X-rayed and found to be fractured. They wrapped it and wrote orders to see an Orthopaedic Physician and gave her prescriptions.  The ER physician recommended 24-hour caregivers until we could see how she could function at the assisted living facility.

Help Managing After the Crisis with my Mother-in-Law

We are part owners of a home care and care management company, EasyLiving, Inc., in Florida.  We know the difficulty in finding the right caregiver for your parents’ personality and needs.  We are blessed we had hired a caregiver when she first moved into the facility to visit with her three times a week for additional socialization, someone to do activities with, someone that could do small tasks she wanted to be done, and an ear for her besides her family.  Fortunately, her caregiver Kay was available to immediately start staying with her daily.

We also had introduced our mother-in-law to one of our Geriatric Care Managers when she first relocated to the assisted living facility.  We did this knowing how important it is to maintain ourselves as family (and not the professional) to try to maintain a good relationship with our mother-in-law (MIL) as well as the facility staff.  Beth, our care manager, has worked with the facility in establishing the level of care we need to pay for as well as any issues with the facility we have.  Some concerns at the beginning was her shower schedule (she hates bathing and often refuses) and her eating habits (Beth negotiated a diet and schedule that works for my MIL). Beth also made sure the staff was taking her weight regularly to ensure she is maintaining her weight. And, Beth provides a professional ear for my mother-in-law to complain to about life in general, her family, what the facility doesn’t do, etc.

We will be forever grateful to the caregivers and to Beth for making her quality of life so much better.

After the fall, ER visit, and return to the facility last Thursday my MIL decided she didn’t want any caregivers in her apartment.  We tried to explain to her the doctor had ordered 24-hour care since she could not use her left arm and had just suffered a big fall.  We were trying to explain to her that the last place we wanted her to end up was in the hospital, especially with the fear of COVID-19.  The anger and denial of needing extra help escalated and before we knew it – it became a very ugly yelling match.  It quickly went from denial of needing help to her accusing us of stealing her money.   Not a fight my husband or I ever care to have again with her.  You feel like you are trying to do your best and feel like a failure all at the same time.  And the sadness of knowing that life is shorter for her than longer doesn’t make this any easier.

We called Beth, our care manager, and she immediately helped us calm down and said she would be communicating directly with the caregivers and helping then manage, she would be communicating with the facility staff and calling my mother-in-law on a regular basis to help her feel she is still in control.

So, what we have seen over the last few days is that my mother-in-law not speaking with my husband and me (truly the closest loved ones) has decreased her anxiety and agitation, allowing her to receive help from Beth, the facility team and caregivers.  She has easily accepted that my husband and I are working a lot due to COVID-19 (the truth) and knows she will hear from us soon.  We have quickly had to learn that while she loves us more than anything, we are also the same ones that she can take all her frustration out on.  Avoiding that escalation with us has kept her calmer and happier.

Coping with What We Can’t Control and the New Normal

As we all are experiencing right now, not having control or feeling like we don’t have control is not a good feeling.  It requires different coping skills than when we get to have everything done our way.

My mother-in-law’s world is small.  She is fortunate to be able to afford a one-bedroom apartment with a living room, small bath and kitchen.  This is more space than many seniors have that are living in facilities.  When you move into a facility it is a new routine for everyone.  The schedule is not your own, you need to accommodate and have patience in receiving the care you need.  Not an easy task.

Small things make a big difference in giving you the sensation of having some control over your life.  For my MIL having her bed made just the way she likes it makes her happy and helps her sleep better.  You can be sure there are no wrinkles in those sheets, they are properly tucked in, the corners done just right, and the pillows placed just so.  This is a lifelong habit.  There is no one able to do it just like she does.

The care manager is coaching the caregivers on tasks my mother-in-law can supervise.  This gives her some autonomy and feeling of control.

Not being able to see her is difficult and very sad for us.  We long for how she was before, and we constantly work on how we respond to the person she is now.  Our goal is to do the best for her.  When my husband calls her “Mommy” it takes my mind to an entirely different stage of life – and helps me remember and feel the love a mother has for her child.

Need help managing care and coping with life transitions, new roles, crises and more for your mother-in-law or another family member? EasyLiving can help. Our care management and caregiver services support you in taking the best care of your loved ones. We can help maintain family harmony and reduce caregiver stress. Additionally, our caregivers provide an “essential service” that remains available during the coronavirus crisis.

Mother-in-law driving you crazy? Or, just anxious and overwhelmed with caregiving? Worried about elderly loved ones in care facilities who you can’t visit? Contact us for a free consultation (or call anytime: 727-447-5845 or 813-333-5020).