Ask Amy: Wife is rude toward husband with dementia

Dear Amy: My father-in-law has an early form of dementia and tends to repeat himself frequently. The stories he tells about the good old days or his trials and tribulations at work (he has a part-time job) are very familiar to the family.

Because he is unaware of how long he’s been talking, his wife will often just walk away from the conversation, rolling her eyes in frustration and leaving the family member or visitor stranded while he rambles on.

She will then engage one of her children to vent her frustration about their father, often putting the man down in the process. Should a mother do such a thing to an adult child? After all, her husband is still their father and can’t help himself. What do you suggest they do when she does this?

Amy says: The first response to your mother-in-law’s behavior should be to ask her how she is and if she needs help.

Her reaction to her husband’s dementia is disrespectful, but the frustration behind it is understandable. Living with someone with dementia is extremely taxing. If you feel “stranded” with him while he rambles during a visit, imagine what it is like for her. Her expressions are signs that she might not have the temperament to cope well with this challenge.

Her children should say to her, “Mom, we’re concerned about the way you are coping with Dad. It upsets us when you are so impatient toward him; please don’t talk that way. We are worried about both of you.”

The Alzheimer’s Association (alz.org) hosts an informative website about caring for someone with dementia. The 24-hour help line is staffed by clinicians who can give advice about care and caregiving, 1-800-272-3900. The children should approach this health issue as a family to make sure both parents get the care and support they need.

Send questions via e-mail to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com

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