When Your Parent With Dementia Wants to Die

Taken Christmas 2014. After an up and down year, mom passed away on Christmas 2015. 

My mother made it very clear to me that if she ended up like her mom, I was to either “push grannies chest on her” or “put a pillow over her head and take her out.” She was always very matter-of-fact about it. So when mom developed dementia and I watched sadness creep over her, I was pained that I really couldn’t fulfill her request for a wide variety of reasons.

The movement for Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill doesn’t cover individuals with dementia. A friend once shared that a shot of potassium would do the trick, but which one of me or my siblings would do it?

The coping mechanism that has helped me was to focus on was what I could control. I had to fight to roll-back all the medications and vitamins being prescribed for mom. I was very open in telling the doctor that my job was to make sure we weren’t extending the low quality of life my mom was having. There is a balance. There were some prescriptions that would help avoid the skin tears that started to plague my mom. In her last year, I told the doctor if there was no option for pot brownies, then he needed to find her a happy pill. The reason I asked about the pot brownies is that I’ve had several families tell me this has helped their loved ones, and eating a brownie is something I know my mom would gladly do, while taking a pill was still something she resisted. The doctor was surprised by my request, and being in a state without medical marijuana, he suggested a medication that helped.

After mom broke her hip in mid-December, I was able to work with hospice to make her ending as quick and painless as possible. It has left a mark on my soul that still pangs me every so often. However, I knew that is what my mom wanted. I’m still not sure if the pang is guilt, grief, or just a combination of emotions.

Unfortunately, for those with dementia, there are few options to help.

When a daughter shared that her dad diagnosed with Lewy Body was asking to die, the pang I felt about my mom returned. This is torturous for both the person with dementia and their loved ones.

Recently, I ran across the story of Dennis McCullough in the form of his obituary who was the pioneer of the term “slow medicine.” As a geriatrician, he describes “slow medicine” as not a plan for getting ready to die, but a plan for caring, and for living well, in the time that an elder has left.

Back in 2008, he wrote a beautiful piece about Slow Medicine. I hope this idea can help you find peace on your journey. Confessed.