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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Dementia steals mom a daughter once knew

Darlene Thain’s mom smacked her the other day. It was shocking, even for a woman who has dealt with nearly five years of her mother’s dementia.

“It was really disheartening,” said Thain, 69. “It really upset me.”

Thain had promised to never put her mom in a nursing home. But then came the fall and the broken leg. The dementia worsened. Her mother stuffed washcloths in the sinks and the toilets and watched them flood.

To keep her mother at home would require a total remodel of her mother’s tiny house, and she didn’t want to destroy her own marriage by bringing her mother into her home.

It was too much for Thain, and she finally placed her mom in a facility in 2009. Thain’s mom often reminds her of her betrayal.

As an only child, Thain has no one else to rely on for support. Thain and the family members of other Manor Care residents support each other and share the day’s struggles and horror stories. The staff is helpful. Yet she wishes there was an official support group for people like her who are struggling with their elderly parents but who are not the main caregivers.

Her son is an only child. She worries that he may end up in the same frustrating situation.

Thain writes, mostly poetry, to relieve her stress. The following is an essay she wrote about her struggles as a caregiver.

– Erica Curless

My 95-year-old mother is in a nursing home. They provide her care, but all of the responsibility of making decisions falls to me.

She has dementia and does not see, hear or comprehend well. It is a challenge to not get frustrated with her and trying to explain things to her usually does not work. Right now she thinks that everything needs to be “sterilized” (including her head) and refuses to eat or drink anything unless it is sterile. I have gotten by this dilemma by taking her water and food out into the hall and announcing to her that “this is now sterilized” and so far it’s working. Still working on how to sterilize her head – maybe a magic wand?

A sense of humor and constant communication with the nursing staff helps me figure out what to do next to handle the current crises. I could write a book on the inventive things we have done to make her think that we believe her so that her life is calmer (at least get her to stop screaming) and also keep our sanity.

My husband and the dog, bless their hearts, get to listen to my daily crises intervention techniques. I have a hard time reconciling the person that my mother is now with the goofy, funny woman I grew up with. Most of the time I want to yell “Where is my mother and what did you do with her?” It saddens me to think that the gentle person who was so much fun and such a good mother has turned into this demanding woman who really thinks that her body and food need to be sterilized.

My nights are filled with dreams of days gone by when she and I laughed and talked together and I could tell her all about my day over a cup of coffee. So many times isolation creeps in and I feel that no one else understands the guilt, frustration and exhaustion that comes with caring for an elderly parent, even though I can at least go out the door and go home to some sense of serenity.

The fear that I too will end up like the above also is a sobering thought indeed. There are support groups for those poor souls who are really in the trenches who are caring for an elderly parent in their own home, but none that I know of for those of us who just seem to go from one crisis to the next. Maybe tomorrow I will see a glimmer of the Mom I used to know.

– Darlene Thain,


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