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When Someone With Dementia Looses a Spouse

momanddadWhen dad died, my mom who was in a moderate stage of multi-infarct dementia, had a hard transition to a new world without her constant wing-man. There were really six difficult weeks and then he was gone. Cancer took his life, and not Alzheimer’s.

Managing through this time was difficult.

  • My mom would call to ask me when dad would come back from the hospital.
  • I would find my mom wandering the community looking for dad when I visited.
  • Mom would call me frightened and ask me to come over … at 11:00 PM.

On top of my own grief, I was not really sure how to help mom. This change, however, allowed me to reassess what might be best for mom now that she was alone.

Grimly, one of the smartest things we did right after dad passed away and we were all bedside was to ask the nurse to take a picture of the family together … one last time. It allowed us to provide mom with a reminder that we were all with dad in the end. She taped the picture on her dresser mirror and it helped reassure her that she had been there with dad through his final days.

After dad’s death, my mom started to become very combative. She was arguing with every one and even getting physical. The staff told me that we would need to bring in additional support to help mom or she would have to consider a new community. Assisted Living wasn’t really the right place for mom, but in her Continuing Care Retirement Community, she wasn’t really a fit for the memory care unit yet–she was still way too active.

We hired the personal care assistant to help mom. While it seemed like mom was still refusing to accept extra help, what I learned was how important it was for mom to feel meaning and purpose and guide her own day. She needed help finding the offered activities as well as someone who could answer her questions about where dad was. She didn’t need help doing things, she just needed a gentle guide who would be there to help redirect her toward positive activities and to reassure her when she was feeling anxious. It took almost two months to find the right person and integrate them into mom’s life.

In the beginning, there were days when she didn’t understand who these people were who were showing up in her apartment. One evening a family friend called to tell me that my mom was upset that a strange woman was following her around. No one really understood the issues and choices we were faced with.

I realized I needed to help with the transition. When a new caregiver was assigned, I would meet them with mom and get to know them. I found that re-framing them as a friend who would stop by when they were in the area was acceptable to my mom*. We eventually found a woman with a calm demeanor and permanent smile who earned my mother’s trust. However, it was clear mom needed a different community. Helping mom live in her Assisted Living community was becoming a full-time job for me.

Be kind to yourself. Allow the time to move through the grief. It could be that new options for the care of one might serve your loved ones needs better in the long-run. Reflected. 

*As I have shared over the years with this blog, I quickly learned that the truth in every instance wasn’t always the best way to help my parents. I would always have a discussion with them about what was happening once and address questions, absorb their anger, and then move on. Telling my mom daily that the community required that she have a personal care assistant failed to help my mom transition to the new level of care she needed. 

2 comments on “When Someone With Dementia Looses a Spouse

  1. This is very useful, in part because you take a descriptive not a prescriptive approach.

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