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Dr. Michael
Dr. Michael, Psychologist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 2177
Experience:  Licensed Ph.D. Clinical Health Psychology with 30 years of experience in private practive and as a clinical psychology university professor.
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My father went into term care last year. My mother is not

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Hello my father went into long term care last year. My mother is not coping well at all. He was abusive to us as children. She ignored it and should have done something about it. He developed vascular dementia one year ago, not one of us kids live in the same area as her except for my schizophrenic sister whom my mother has shunned since my father's illness and whom she verbally abused consistantly as well as my father. My sister, brother and I have been to see her 7 times within the last year and I have had her fly to my house - it is never enough and tells her friends we are horrible children. Each time I have been with her it has been worse. She has been selfish, demanding, coniving, miserable, damaging, manipulative and hateful. Mixed with remnants of the tolerable times which we all hope will return. She is on Ativan and has been on antidepressants. The antidepressant worked so well at one point that my sister actually made plans for her to live near her. She has told us she is unable to tolerate them now and that they make her sick. We do not believe this at all, at all. We all were so relieved and now we are all so very sad again by her behaviour. I have decided for myself that I can not personally care for her and even speaking with her a couple times a week is difficult. I find myself falling into her behaviours, wierd? I described to someone that it felt like you were being sucked into a vortex when you were speaking with her or with her. I never discussed this with my sister who revealed to me in desperation that she felt as if she would never be happy unless she were as miserable as her. She lives an hour and a half by plane. We are all feeling so guilty and want to deal with this. She is 78 years old and could definitely physically care for herself and even drive, but she chooses to rely on other people (friends) to drive her everywhere. She never says please or thank you when asking for things and sounds more like the "Shift Boss". Her requests do not come across as do me a favour sweetie, but more of a power thing if you get my drift. If an elderly woman is psychologically damaging to their family (who have all already been abused by her in the past), behaves this way, would it be acceptable to telephone her doctor and perhaps have her hospitalized or to suggest to her that unless she go back on the antidepressants that she go into an assisted living building and not expect us to communicate with her? One person told me to be consistantly nice to her and that it would never ever change, and that challenging her or slighting her would provoke her into doing even more damage. What is the best way to deal with this situation??? My father is hospitalized and unable to even be in a nursing home because the stroke occurred in his "control centre" (which apparently he wasn't very good at anyway).
Hello. I believe I can be of help to you with this issue.

You are on the right train of thinking about your mother's needs at this time. No one wants to be around her or care for her and even though it would be upsetting to her, it is important for her to hear where she stands with family members about her long term care, living circumstance and the fact that no one wants her to live with them because of her behavior. So it might be worthwhile for existing family members to all agree to schedule a time to get together with your mother; prior to the meeting with her, talk about what you all will or won't do to support her, visit her, etc. Then, as a group, explain to her that you've jointly agreed that she needs to move into an assisted living situation because there are simply too many 'personality clashes' between her and each of you and that she cannot live with you or other family members going forward. Explain that she can live in her assisted living apartment nearby one of you (kids) and you will each make an effort to visit her. But, she needs to understand that since your father developed dementia, her mood has deteriorated and she seems depressed and really needs to reconsider taking medication or getting into psychotherapy for her depression, because you all firmly believe she is in fact, depressed. If she does nothing for her depression, than her personality clashes with each of you will continue and it is likely that she will have few contacts with her kids, few phone calls etc. So if she wants to strengthen the relationships and communication with her own children after she moves into assisted living, she needs to work hard to improve her depression and mood, so her irritability doesn't chase everyone away. So this is the 'gist' of what your mother needs to hear, jointly from all of her children. You can certainly change it or tweak it, but she has a right to know what it will take to have future contacts with her kids, and a meaningful relationship.

I think you certainly can try to just 'be nice and kind at all times' toward her, but she isn't too old to realize that how she treats people affects their interest in having a relationship with her----it is JUST THAT SIMPLE. I worked with a 93 year old woman with partial dementia who became nasty, mean and hateful toward everyone--even loved ones who came to visit her in the nursing home. She had several talks with a niece who made it clear that whenever she was not feeling in a good mood and started saying mean hurtful things, she (the niece) would tell her she was leaving and would come back, "when you are in a better mood and really want to talk pleasantly with me". Well it took 3-4 visits, with the announcement that, it "is clear you are in a bad mood today and don't want to have a pleasant interaction with me, so I'll come back later when you are feeling better". and she promptly got up and left. Gradually, this old woman got the message---it was clear to her that no one would visit her unless she was pleasant, and amazingly, she changed her behavior during visits and her overall mood improved. Now this was a 93 year old woman with limited mental capacity but she figured it out and became happier during the months before she died (i.e., she passed away about 3 months later) due to a heart attack. My feeling is this: You and your sibs have a terrible relationship with your mother; no one wants her living with them, and no one really wants to have a relationship with her at this time. You have nothing to lose by clearly outlining to her what she needs to do to literally, 'earn' visitation and contact with her kids going forward. If her feelings are hurt or she gets angry at hearing this honest message from her children, 'so what'? She is already bitter, angry, self-centered and will find 'reasons' to project blame displace her unhappiness onto you if you make yourself a target. She has right to know what WILL reliably cause her family to WANT to spend time with her during her remaining years. Frankly, she doesn't have a clue right now.

My suggestion above may seem harsh and unfeeling to some, but it is honest, and I don't think you have anything to lose by trying this. Sounds like her life will most likely become more lonely, isolated, etc., if she remains clueless about why no one wants to be with her, and therefore, nothing about her behavior changes.

I'll pause here and solicit your reaction to this post, and I'll carefully attend to any contradictions or challenges you want to present.
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
I agree. My sister would be better at that than me, but I know unless we all agree that the anger will move toward the open door. Yes it is to the point of how worse could it get. Perhaps I need my own prepared response. I am frightened of her though. The way she treated my Dad and my Schizophrenic Sister. She could cause lots of trouble. What if she turns my siblings against me, for example?
You are afraid of your mother 'as if' you were still the scared, abused 10 year old girl.

I don't mean this unkindly, but anyone reading your last post would immediate be struck by this interpretation. So she could get angry and each of you could absorb her anger emotionally and prepare for it, and it won't affect you unless you let it. You are 46 year old. What are you afraid of? She can scream, gossip, spread nasty stories and rumours, even call the police and complain of abuse. You say she could cause lots of trouble? What family trouble can she cause if ALL OF THE CHILDREN talk about what needs to be done, how to handle it, and and you jointly make PLANS AND ANTICIPATE her negative, angry reaction to it---and how you should handle that as a family? Your siblings know her quite well and if she can actually succeed in 'turning them against you' this doesn't say much for the mental capacity of your siblings, their maturity, their judgment etc. She wouldn't be able to do such a thing if you talk about prospects that she will TRY IT, if she gets angry at your message, and you anticipate it and agree together what to do if she begins to complain or 'tell stories' to each of you, about one another.

I really want to hear your response to this, please.
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
I thought about that. I knew you would think it childish. They are just fears. Where I seems to be brave and grown up in all kinds of situations in my life, this one does make me revert a bit. My brother once told me that he was afraid that he would get upset if someone else got one of the "treasures" he had hoped for or that she had promised to him. It was so funny because she actually ripped the tape with my name on it on a necklace set promised to me and gave it to him for his wife! We vowed not to let her heirlooms or money mean anything. We all detached. We are all sensible and good people and all VERY tired of this. I am sure agreement will come easy. I really like you advice and I am looking forward to proposing this to my siblings. I need to go now, but I hope that I can revisit this with you if I need to.
Thankfully, despite your history with your mother, you clearly possess what one could call a wise, rational and objective 'mind' that is capable of 'stepping back' and looking at this situation quite objectively. You can most certainly get back with me in the future if you have additional questions or issues about this. Just list Dear Dr.Michael in the title of the question and I'll be the one to pick it up.

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