Minding Our Elders: When joy is lost, value contentmentDEAR CAROL: I’ve always gotten along with my mom and as she’s aged I’ve tried my best to make her life happy. It used to be that when I did something special or fun for her she smiled and even hugged me. Her appreciation showed in her eyes.
By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM
DEAR CAROL: I’ve always gotten along with my mom and as she’s aged I’ve tried my best to make her life happy. It used to be that when I did something special or fun for her she smiled and even hugged me. Her appreciation showed in her eyes.
Now it seems that even when she says thank you in response to something I do, there’s no real happiness in her face. There’s no smile or happy look in her eyes.
I go out of my way to make her happy with the hope that I’ll see the expression of joy in her eyes again, but I find myself disappointed. That makes me so sad.
She has mild dementia and is on two new medications. Could it be the medications that are keeping her from feeling or displaying happiness anymore? – Claudia
DEAR CLAUDIA: Many of us want to “make” others happy, and of course, that can’t happen when other people have health or other problems that prevent them from feeling happiness. It’s easy to take this lack of response personally, but doing so will only compound the problems you have now. You’ll need to learn that your best is all that you can do. Likely your mom feels as much happiness as she is capable of and she knows that you are trying to help her. She simply doesn’t feel well enough to experience, or at least display, true joy.
It’s possible that your mom’s medications are causing depression. There is often a balance between the positive value of a medication and negative side effects. Your mom, her doctor and you, plus others who know your mom well, should all have input into how she seems to be reacting to the medications and any changes in her medication schedule.
It’s possible that your mom’s unhappiness isn’t due to her medications. She could be suffering from depression caused by a different chemical imbalance, by distress over knowing that she is developing dementia, or simply worry over aging. It’s also possible that she could be suffering from physical pain that she’s not quite able to express.
You can, with the help of her doctor, assist in providing your mom with the best quality of life possible given her physical and cognitive limitations. The fact that she can no longer respond like she used to when she was well will likely remain painful for you. However, if you are to move forward and provide her with the best care that you can, plus remain a fairly upbeat person yourself, you’ll have to learn to accept that maybe some contentment is the best that your mom can do. That is not a reflection on you or the care you’re providing. It’s simply a fact of life at this point in time. Continue showing your love and don’t pressure your mom to give more than she can in return. She knows you love her.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.