We're starting the new year with a couple of caregiver dilemmas pulled from my e-mailbag.
This week, we're posed with the questions of how to treat a stroke victim and dementia patient who can't keep his hands off of women he meets -- literally -- and how to wrest away the power of attorney a sibling holds before she uses up all their mother's financial resources.
Tough questions, both of these, but let's see if we can't start the new year right with some helpful advice.
My husband had several small strokes that affected his mind. He now has dementia. I don't know how to handle the problems he now has. He gets very emotional for no reason. When we are in line at the grocery store, he will suddenly start weeping! He goes up to every child (he sees) and tries to talk to them. He also tries to put his hand on the hair of women, or hold their hand! I have tried to explain that he shouldn't do those things, but he doesn't pay any attention to me. Even when the women tell him to stay away, he just laughs at them. What can I do?
Mary Lou H., Fort Worth, Texas
Dear Mary Lou:
I'm so sorry to hear about your husband's problems. You are not alone. There are many people with the same problems.
When someone has a stroke (whether minor or major), they become more emotional. They may cry or laugh at inappropriate times, and they can't control it. Don't get upset with him or tell him to stop doing that. It is usually as embarrassing to him as it is to you. Try not to let him know it bothers you. When he says something about it, explain that it is the result of a stroke and that it might improve as the effects of the stroke improve. Of course, it may not improve, but with the dementia, he doesn't need to worry about that.
As his dementia progresses, you will have to take over and become his "parent." That is a very hard thing to do because you are dealing with your own emotions, too, but you will have to become that loving parent.
I have seen other men with dementia act toward women the way your husband does. They just don't seem to understand what's happening. What I've been told is that you should sit down with your husband and explain that there are some things he can't do or he will get in trouble. He won't understand why he can't do those things because his mind is regressing, and along with that his understanding is regressing. He might be drawn to children because he feels he is on their level. His intentions toward women are not wrong. He just doesn't understand what touching a woman's hair or holding their hand implies. He is probably acting like he would act toward his mother when he was small.
Sit down and talk to him before you go where he acts inappropriately, and then you will probably need to remind him while you are there. Do not ask him if he remembers the conversation. That will just frustrate him because he may not remember it. Gently tell him that he can't do that. And then, say it again when you need to. And again, and again, etc.
Try to put your own feelings aside, and remember that he needs your help so very much. Deal with your own emotions when he is asleep. If you get upset around him, he will remember your being upset by him and that will only make things worse. Sometimes negative things stay in a person's mind longer than positive things.
My younger sister has power of attorney for my Mother's legal affairs, although she doesn't do what she is supposed to do. Mother is 93 years old with dementia. My husband and I have cared for her 24/7 for several years. My sister insists that Mother be put in a nursing home, even though the doctor advises against it. My sister has spent Mother's money on herself, and she tells Mother, my husband and me what to do and what not to do. She gets upset if we take Mother to the dentist, out to eat, or any place else that requires the use of Mother's money. She visits Mother once a month for a couple hours.
The tension between my sister and me is getting stronger all the time. Mother has asked her to turn over the power of attorney to me, but she won't. What can we do to take over the power of attorney and anything else we need to do to take good care of Mother? I only want what's best for Mother.
Geri R., El Paso, Texas
It sounds like you need help. There is no way your sister should be telling you or your husband what to do. Since you are the one taking care of your mother, I would also question her telling her what to do.
Why don't you check into the following places to find out what you can do to improve the situation? When you talk to anyone, ask if they know of other places you should contact.
- Contact a good lawyer. If you don't know one, check out these websites:
National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys If your sister makes it hard for you to afford a lawyer, go to LawHelp.org.
- Check the National Guardianship Association. They may know what you can do.
- Check the National Center on Elder Abuse. The fact is that your sister's spending of your Mother's money on herself might be considered elder abuse.
I am sure there is a solution. You just need to enquire various places to find out how to change things.