My dad has frontal lobe dementia. This isn’t really about that. What this is about is surviving my mother. Where my dad’s dementia comes in is with seeing what a nurturing caregiver my mother is. She’s caring. She’s compassionate. She’s…well, when it comes to the nurturing and patient part, I have to say: not so much.
It’s interesting to watch
, actually; much more so than to live through it (or rather, live through it again). They way she treats my father is very informative. Now don’t get me wrong, my mom isn’t mean, she isn’t abusive, and she intends only good. Even so, it’s a wonder any of us survived her.
Three of us adult-type people: me, my brother, and my mom; deal with my dad every day. My brother teaches at a children’s psychiatric hospital. He treats my dad with a great deal of patience and understanding. I do likewise. In fact, our two styles are very similar (to be fair, I took a lot of psych in college). We wait for my dad to do things in his own time and fix/clean-up/replace any errors he makes without making a fuss about it. The situation is what it is, after all, and all we can really do is to make it as easy and comfortable on my dad as we can. He deserves the respect.
Then there’s mom. It’s really hard to describe without making her sound worse than she is. She’s stopped treating my dad as someone who is actually capable and has shifted to treating him sort of as the idiot child. This might not be so bad if her idiot child wasn’t aware of what was happening to him, and that was getting increasingly frail emotionally. For example: a little while ago we received an ID bracelet for my dad to wear in case he wanders off. My method to put it on him was to describe to him what I was doing in a calm voice and not do anything without him knowing what and why I was doing. My mother, on the other hand, noticing the bracelet was a little loose, grabbed his wrist to show me. If it had just been the wrist grab it wouldn’t have been worthy of note, but she also lifted his arm and pushed it toward me, throwing my dad off-balance, and starting him. I exclaimed, "Mom!" To which she got annoyed with me, saying, "I was just lifting his arm."
She hadn’t even noticed that she’d almost made her husband stumble backwards into the wall. It’s like that a lot. She doesn’t notice. She thinks she’s being very helpful, but she doesn’t really pay attention to how it’s affecting her "best friend". The net effect of this is that my dad is afraid of her most of the time.
We’ve all tried to explain to my mother how she needs to behave differently, and she thinks she is, but if anything, she’s getting a little more controlling and (I hazard to say) a little shrewish. I’ve tried to recommend that she think about what an angel would do when dealing with my dad, but I’ve also had to ask her if she thinks about that before or after she acts (her answer implied that after was more common).
All of this also bring back a lot of marvelous memories of growing up with Mom. My brother and I have both been the targets of her nurturing method. It’s not fun, though I imagine much easier to take when you’re eight than when you’re seventy-three. When you’re young, it’s not too difficult to accept being treated like a child.
The biggest problem is that she lacks patience. My mom agrees with this assessment. Her "I have to get things done" attitude is in total conflict with the realities of my dad’s condition. Getting things done has to take a backseat to giving my father respect and what little dignity his malady will allow. That requires adjusting to the fact that it might take him a few minutes to say a simple sentence, or forty minutes to eat dinner. Is it inconvenient? Sure. Is it maddening? Sometimes, yes. But he’s given his life to this family…I think he’s earned a measure of patience on our part. Now all we have to do is get my mom to embrace that, and try our best to survive her in the meantime.