Ask Jennifer: Week of....

Posted at: 01/04/2010 9:04 AM
Updated at: 04/08/2014 8:00 AM

Dear Jennifer,

My heart is broken. I don’t know what to do. I always worried that a day would come when my mother wouldn’t recognize me and it was worse than I could have imagined. My mother was sleeping when I arrived, and I started putting away her clean clothes. She woke up and didn’t recognize me. She saw me reaching in her dresser, and started yelling. “Help! Help! Thief! Help!”  I tried to comfort her. “Mom, it’s me. It’s Gloria.” She hit me and the screaming got worse. I left in tears. One of the nurses called me and told me my mom has a urinary tract infection that has put her in a delirium.

Jennifer, I haven’t been back there in a week. I’m petrified she will start screaming again. I don’t know if I can take it. I love her so much. We’ve been so close. We did so many things together. This is a nightmare. I cry a lot and my husband isn’t any help. Everything he says to help me feel better just makes me mad. I feel like I’m losing my mind too. I need to be there with her and I just can’t. How do other people cope with this?


Dear Doreen,

Wow. You got punched in the heart, didn’t you? I am so sorry this happened. I am sorry your mother has dementia which is hard enough. When delirium is added on top, the result can be exactly what you describe. In your mom’s situation, a UTI brought on the delirium. Most often, when the UTI clears, so will the delirium. In my experience, a delirium is like being in a dream while wide awake. When we have recall of our dreams, they can be quite bizarre and we cannot make sense out of much of it. Your dear mother wasn’t yelling at you; it was her delirium.

Here’s my advice:
1. Seek out the social worker at the nursing home. Ask for a care plan meeting to learn about how your mother is doing overall and the current condition of her delirium. Ask the staff for ideas about how to manage a visit. And request that they alert you by phone if your mother is entering a delirium or has a UTI or other change. In this way, you can either choose to stay home for a bit or prepare yourself before the visit.  

2. Take a moment to remember your mother the way she was before dementia hit. Then imagine what your mother would advise you during this time. She would likely worry about you, and encourage you to take care of yourself. Follow her advice.
3. Join an Alzheimer support group. Visit www.alz.org for more information.  Ask your husband to come to the support group meetings with you.

I’ve gone through this with my mom, you have my complete understanding.