When They Believe, So Do You: Dementia and the Truth

locked  doorMy Mom is now sundowning and paranoid. The doctor has recommended new medications and the staff has asked that we hire additional support who can help redirect her from 1 to 9 PM daily. It seems odd that she would need additional support given she is in Assisted Living, but she is a very mobile and moving into more behavior that is resulting in concerns for her dignity when she wanders into the Independent Living community where she lived for more than a decade. She is getting very confrontational and Independent Living isn’t staffed to help her.

The doctor has adjusted her medication and we just hired a personal assistant who has been told to lurk in the hallways and be as invisible as possible. As I’m leaving a late night tennis match, my Mom calls to tell me that they are trying to move her out of her apartment.  She tells me she will “barricade the door” until I arrive in the morning. I tell her I’m coming over now. She is relieved.

When I arrive, I stop by the nursing station and they tell me they saw my Mom walking to the Independent Living dining hall, but had nothing to report. I ask if they had seen anything to give my Mom the impression she was being moved from her apartment. As soon as I ask, I realize how silly my question sounds. They smile and tell me “No.” My Mom was very convincing on the phone — I know she believes what she tells me which is heartbreaking. I imagine how frightened and alone she must feel.

When I get to my Mom’s apartment, she is wound up and happy to see me, but doesn’t mention someone trying to move her out and there is no evidence to support what she told me when we spoke 25 minutes ago. She doesn’t even remember calling me. However, tonight she is frantically moving around the apartment. I suggest we find her pajama’s so she can get ready for bed and I can go home. We spend almost 40 minutes looking for her pajama top. It’s a two-room apartment, but my Mom continually embarks on a different task and I try to settle and redirect her which makes the search so lengthy.

I step out and request something to help my Mom settle down. They give me a dose of Ativan and I set the pill container on the kitchen counter. When my Mom sees the pill, she quickly picks it up and takes it — I didn’t need to prompt her. We never do find her PJ top and after 2 hours, I realize my Mom is not going to go to bed or change into her pajamas as long as I’m “visiting.” When she starts to yawn and slow down after the Ativan starts to calm her, I kiss her good-night.

I recognized years ago that my Mom believed what she was telling me. Usually it was that she was paying the bills or ate breakfast — things I knew not to be true because I was doing them or had been with her all morning and she refused breakfast. It’s harder to know the truth when you aren’t with her, my Mom can still be very convincing.

The hardest part is that I know she believes what she tells me. My Mom is all alone and I wonder how to help her be more at peace. Challenged.