Our Parents- Is this normal aging, or should we worry?

pecanpieApril 30, 2006

A rhetorical question, as I'm already concerned or I wouldn't be posting, duh.

My MIL's behavior over the past year has been a little 'off'. She becomes very irritated with my FIL, who is the nicest, most patient guy you could ever meet. She gets agitated to the point of flailing her hands wildly in front of her. She is normally not emotional or particularly demonstrative. I think this is odd.

I started to worry when I ran into her in the grocery store a few months ago and instead of saying hello and giving me a hug, she grabbed the Dawn out of my basket and asked, "Where did you get this? Did you find it under the sink?" and didn't seem to realize that we were in the store and not at her home or mine. Very bizarre.

She dropped by the other day and turned off all our lights and our oven. I was fixing dinner. DH got after her for it and she apologized, said she wasn't thinking.

My parents are much, much older than DH's, but I have no frame of reference there because mine were always nuts.

Give it to me straight.

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Stop by the CareGivers Forum. It honestly does sound like something is happening, but she needs a medical work-up to determine that. Folks in CareGiving can give you more feedback.

I've been taking a class at a local volunteer agency for "peer" counselors for the elderly. (OK, I am not elderly, but am working with other people my age taking care of their parents---I just had to clarify that!) A lot of our course work over the past three months has been on various problems with the elderly. And if I were working with your MIL, I'd be encouraging her to talk to her family and to see her doctor for an evaluation. There are medictions that can help Alzheimer's patient, so if that should be the problem, you have treatment options. The earlier a problem is diagnosed, the better.

Not that she has Alzheimer's, but the behavior isn't inconsistent. But it could be other things as well. And no, the behavior isn't "normal". If it had been, you would not have asked the question.

Hugs to you...


Here is a link that might be useful: Care Givers

    Bookmark   April 30, 2006 at 9:39PM
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Sounds like something is/has happened to her; maybe she had a small stroke, or her medications are interacting badly. It could be dementia, and Helene is right. She needs a good medical evaluation.

Talk to your dad, too, and see what he has noticed. If he has noticed these changes, it must scare the daylights out of him, and he may be unwilling to get help because he's afraid of the diagnosis.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2006 at 10:06PM
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You are describing a symptom called disorientation, slippage in awareness of where you are and what is happening.

Sure, it can happen just because of attention faltering for a moment. But the concern is that it is a symptom of a serious disorder, either a delerium or dementia. Delerium, often reversible, has a physical or metabolic basis: substances (bad medication interactions are very common in elderly), poor nutrition, infections (especially urinary tract infections), endocrine disorders, even depression - a whole host of things can lead to confusion and strange behavior. A medical workup is critical - delerium is usually very treatable.

Dementia, especially a progressive Alzheimer's type, is the diagnosis people fear. But still there are treatments and a lot of resources to help with monitoring and planning and coping. Seek out all the support, information and help you can. Not an easy path for anyone involved.

Good wishes for you, your MIL and your families.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2006 at 11:46PM
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You've gotten excellent advice from the others here. Folks personalities & dispositions normally do not change with aging.

If your MIL has always been 'feisty' or at times a bit 'ditsy' (I'm saying this with care & concern), she more than likely will carry those traits into seniorhood (maybe a bit more pronounced, cause by the time your that age, you don't care what anyone thinks-lol).

(((Big hugs))) & best wishes.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2006 at 8:25AM
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Thanks to all, especially for the hugs and best wishes.

Yes, my MIL has always been a bit feisty and shall we say 'outspoken'. Pauline, this HAS become more prounounced, to the point where we think she and my FIL are not included socially with several groups anymore.

Helene, my MIL's father was in a nursing home and died shortly after our marriage, and my understanding was that he had dementia. I don't know if that was a clinical diagnosis or if the family just called it dementia because he had declined so. They're not known for asking questions of doctors, IYKWIM. Nor do they TALK about anything- both MIL and FIL have had surgery without telling the kids because they 'don't want us to worry'. Makes me nuts.

Momj47, you're right- DH's dad won't discuss this- he has noticed but is somewhat paralyzed. It may be fear of the diagnosis or fear of her reaction if he were to suggest a medical evaluation. She's unpredictably volatile at times.

Has anyone approached a loved one about getting an evaluation? I could do this with my parents, but I don't think any of her kids would do this until things got really bad, and from what you say, celticmoon, early intervention is crucial for some disorders.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2006 at 9:35AM
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There are a number of types of dementia. Not everything is Alzheimers, so don't immediately jump to that conclusion. I can't say how it might go if you suggest medical evaluation, but you may want to talk to all her children and express your concerns and see what they have to say. And emphasize that early treatment is a must, and that MIL's behavior can be due to a number of things, but she needs to be evaluated.

You don't get anywhere by NOT talking about it. Is there a volunteer senior-services group in your area? Check around and see if you can find some local resources. Check the local hospitals for free educational or support groups. Are there Senior centers near you? Ask there, too. Start poking around and see what you can find.

I guess that, if I were in your position, I'd start with trying to educate myself as much as possible about local resources as well as the various problems of aging. She'll be getting evaluation at some point, maybe in her own sweet time, maybe sooner, depending on events. One of these days her husband may break and suggest it. But even if he doesn't want to talk to you right now, he'll need your support later.


    Bookmark   May 1, 2006 at 11:34AM
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Maybe your husband could talk at length privately with his father about your concerns (which should be presented as your husband's concerns to his own father). Perhaps that would give your FIL a non-threatening moment to discuss his take on his wife's health. God bless your family.


    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 12:14PM
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Cindy is oh-so right about this. It isn't an intervention, and you are in the (often rotten, sometimes good) position of being "only" the DIL. It's the job of your DH and/or his siblings to open the doors and start talking. FWIW, you might wind up being the best person to help out, and I still stand by what I was saying about you being the one to gather information, even if you wind up just helping your DH by doing the groundwork.

My 3 brothers were less than useless, and wouldn't even come to visit Mother in her last days. A lot of men (no offense to the guys reading this, but it's true) are likely to say, hey, Dad, wanna talk? And when Dad says, no, the guy is all to happy to let it drop completely right there. I can't tell you how often my DH would do that with his family, but he's finally learned that he might need to be more patient, more engaged, more persistent in order to open a discussion with family members in such cases.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 1:47PM
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I guess it really means re-establishing our relationships withour parents. So much falls by the wayside when our own children are being raised, and suddenly we find ourselves in a very different relationship with our folks, who are now old. Now we need to be helpers, in a subtle and respectful way. It's a tough path to walk, one reason being that it requires an investment of time and second because it means that you just have to look beyond the little things and the big things that may have happened over the years, just to focus on loving them and trying to get their changing needs met in a good way. I agree with Helene and the others who are suggesting that you do the ground work. The effort that you put forth now might not come to fruition for a year or more, but it's worth it in terms of caring for your DH's parents. It's also a way to demonstrate your love for your DH. Would your DH take this sort of approach to his parents?

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 5:35PM
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Pecanpie, I feel for you trying to find your way in this. Not easy for you to be helpful and make suggestions, especially if MIL is "volatile". Yet a medical evaluation is so important, especially if the problem is an easy fix. That would be wonderful for all of you.

Good advice to suggest DH talk with his Dad. And for you and DH to start some research. Your county may have a Department on Aging within its Human Services or Social Services division. If you can find the right person or office or agency, they should be able to give you a lot of information about what you can expect and what your options are now and later.

Take "information sessions" and "talks" put out by private hospitals or private extended care systems with a grain of salt. Aging is becoming big business, and you don't need marketing of meds and programs disguised as helpful information.

A whole other crucial and very dicey issue is whether your MIL has made any power of attorney for health care arrangements. DH and his sibs really, really, really need to find this out, and soon. MIL sounds lucid enough to still do this if she has not yet. Essentially, she goes on record with her wishes and who she designates to implement those wishes, if or when she can't make healthcare decisions for herself. Without this, her husband and/or her kids can't just step up and do what needs doing later. Every day families are shocked that a complicated court process becomes necessary because there is no HC-POA to activate. It makes absolutely no sense to families, and people suffer with their care delayed, but it is nonnegotiable reality in many states. Another reason to speak with your local governmental agency on aging.

I realize I am bringing up yet another troubling and complicated dimension to this problem - but it is so important I feel I should. Young, old, healthy, sick, every one of us should make ourselves go on record with a HC-POA. It saves our loved ones a world of trouble if there comes a day we can't voice decisions ourselves. Not just in a Terry Schaivo type conflict either. Say my DH needs to enter assisted living or nursing care but he cannot give informed consent, I cannot consent for him even though I'm his wife. Only a lengthy court process can grant me authority to direct his healthcare - and even then a second court proceeding is necessary for any placement decision in my state. All averted with a simple piece of paper saying he's OK with me deciding for him. Easy with a HC-POA document, a mess without it.

Keep talking to DH. Maybe you and he can prepare your own HC-POA's (or update ones you have done) and chat up the process with the parents as way to open communication...

(((Cyber hugs to you for strength)))

    Bookmark   May 3, 2006 at 12:18AM
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Celticmoon- I'm glad you brought up the HCPOA-DNR issue-good information and relevant to all of us on the forums.

May I also add advice to all about making your wishes known concerning organ donation. There is no time like the present.

DH and I are both attorneys, so have this covered for ourselves and most members of our families. MIL, however, is adamant- no DNR no HCPOA- and has been for years so this is not a problem related to her 'condition'. She has told us unequivocally, "Keep me alive as long as you possibly can no matter what." (which we certainly couldn't do without a POA, but that is lost on her) I will not go into it, but it seems she did not learn any lessons when her own mother was dying, but the rest of us certainly did.

Cindy, I appreciate your kind words. As always, you know exactly what to say. DH and all his brothers (think Seven Brides for Seven Brothers!) need to have a sit-down with their dad and the only way that's going to happen is if all the SILs push it. Two of my SILs think this is just normal aging and we should stay out of it- so we are not united on that front.

Helene, I LOL about your brothers being 'less than useless'- we've got a few of those around here, too! They'll do what they're told, but no confrontation, no 'emotional' stuff. Huh-uh, no way.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2006 at 9:39AM
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How old are your DH's parents. If you mother-in-law is only in her 50s, she could be going through menopause--that makes you act like you describe. If she is older than that, don't discount depression either.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2006 at 9:59AM
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HAHAHAHAHA! Carolyn, I'm the menopausal one! I'm not laughing AT you, sweetie, I just got a kick out of your perceived time line. No, MIL is in her early 70s.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2006 at 10:08AM
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Well pecanpie, I'm 51 and you were describing me at times so I thought I'd mention it. Menopause does strange things to women!! LOL! My best advice is to find out when her next doctor's appointment is and then send a note to her doctor expressing your concerns. And keep talking to her about the importance of getting regular medical checkups too. Best wishes.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2006 at 12:21PM
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The people here gave you such good advice it brought tears to my eyes. How wonderful that such thoughtful kind and wise people exist here for you.

As someone going through this myself, although I don't have Alzheimer's, may I suggest you trick her into going? That is what my family did for me and it was a great relief for me to find out what exactly was wrong with me (because she does know something is wrong) and what I could do about it to help myself and those who care for me. I know it sounds unreasonable but it was the only way I could face the fear. And I am doing quite well now!

What a tough position you are in. But every day lost is another lost day if you know what I mean
My heart goes out to you and your family.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2006 at 9:38PM
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My husband is a shrink and i was just asking him... he did mention that you need to have her checked for infection. In older folks bladder and other infections can cause them to get sort of kookey. I know that we thought my MIL had gone around the bend but after she got on meds for an infection we did not know she had she cleared right up.

Now this was not true for my FIL... we had him on aracept ( spelled that wrong)... and it helped for a year or so but after that his abilites really went down hill... and he was dead in 6 months. There is only so long you can fight a body that is trying to die. But there is no reason to give up to a life of *crazy*.

Lots of hugs!


    Bookmark   May 5, 2006 at 10:53PM
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