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Published July 06, 2013, 11:33 PM

Minding Our Elders: Mom’s losing interest in life

DEAR CAROL: My mother is only 78, but she has early to mid-stage Alzheimer’s. I can’t get her interested in doing anything. She worked all of her adult life in sales and has indicated from time to time that she misses the people since she retired. For hobbies, she used to love to read and do needle work but she doesn’t do either now.

By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM

DEAR CAROL: My mother is only 78, but she has early to mid-stage Alzheimer’s. I can’t get her interested in doing anything. She worked all of her adult life in sales and has indicated from time to time that she misses the people since she retired. For hobbies, she used to love to read and do needle work but she doesn’t do either now. Mom resists wearing her dentures or letting me comb her hair to help her look nice. When I turn on the TV, she’ll tolerate it but doesn’t seem to care what’s on. Her doctor tried an antidepressant but that seemed to make her worse. I’m happy to take care of her but I want her to have a better life. – Maryanne

DEAR MARYANNE: I’m glad your mother’s seen her doctor about depression, however I’m wondering if the doctor was a psychiatrist. Her family doctor can prescribe depression medication, but there are many options and they all take such careful managing that generally a psychiatrist is the best choice, especially since the first drug tried didn’t improve her condition. It’s possible that slowly introducing another type of drug may help her. This delicate process requires an expert in the field.

I believe that your mom’s dementia is making her former hobbies difficult because her short term memory is affected. While I feel your mom’s depression should be addressed by a psychiatrist, I do have a couple of suggestions that could help once her depression has been lifted somewhat.

Since she enjoyed her sales job, which is very social work, she may benefit from being around more people. One way to provide that is adult day care. The ADC facilities that I’ve visited have offered a wide choice of activities for attendees including a kitchen for supervised baking, an exercise room, dancing lessons, card games and new electronic games such as Wii bowling. Even sharing an old movie with a peer is social. Most offer partial and full days.

Your mom may resist at the idea of ADC at first, but if you find one you like and take her a few times for brief visits, it’s likely that she’ll eventually want to join the activities. Talk with the staff about ways to help her adjust. If you let them know that she seems to miss her work in sales, they may be able to help her find activities she enjoys.

Even though you like having your mom with you, if ADC doesn’t work it may be wise to take a look at assisted living. For some people, the additional social atmosphere can literally change their lives. They begin to feel at home. They make friends, take part in activities and enjoy eating with peers. I’m glad that you are looking for options that may help your mom. The right medication if needed, along with peer socialization, may improve her life considerably. I wish you both well.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.

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