Dear Mrs. Bluth,
I am an only child who is the sole caregiver of my elderly mother. I am writing to you because life has become impossible. Over the past year and a half, my mother has begun to deteriorate mentally and it has thrown my life into chaos. My family and I have no day and no night – and definitely no respite.
Four years ago when my mom was widowed, she was fully functioning, articulate and busy with grandchildren, friends and a part time job. We (my wife and I) were concerned about her living alone – the neighborhood where she lived was changing and, every now and again, we heard about a mugging or a robbery in the vicinity. My wife and I thought it would be a great idea if she came to live with us – after all, we had the room and the children would be beside themselves with joy to have her so close. Needless to say she put up a fight and we didn’t push, just left the suggestion open for when she was ready.
Not too many months later, when she came to spend Shabbos with us, as had become her custom, we noticed a change in her. She was always immaculate about her person and attire and this time most of her clothing was stained and needed to be washed. There was a number of instances where she lost her words and couldn’t express herself – when she saw our wide-eyed expressions, she quickly changed the subject. These and a number of other disturbing events attributed to the decision I made: it was time for her to move in with us. She was very unhappy at first, but I thought that she would adjust. She didn’t and things got markedly worse.
She developed a nervous tick in her left eye and a mouth tremor that made it difficult to drink without a straw. We took her to our family doctor who said it was age-related and to be expected. He said that after losing a spouse people often deteriorated. He also prescribed tablets for what he thought to be depression and told us that as soon as she adjusted to her new surroundings, she would slow her regressive traits and, perhaps, even improve. Some months passed, but things did not improve. Again, they got worse.
She developed nightmares and would get up shrieking in terror, saying all kinds of people had come into her room to torture her. We put in a night-light and I thought that would solve the problem – until she called for us at 4 a.m. to introduce us to her new friends. Obviously, there was no one in her room, she was speaking to the curtain and, I truly believe, she was hearing a response.
This happens often now, her seeing people who aren’t there and she has taken to roaming the house at night. I am terrified she will hurt herself or someone else as she feeds into the scenarios playing out in her head. The kids are afraid as well and have distanced themselves from her.
At this juncture, she has lost the ability to speak clearly and we cannot understand what she’s saying, which makes her stop talking and just sit and stare into space. My wife is afraid to leave her alone in the house, and has become a virtual prisoner until I get home from work. My mother has to be fed as her hands shake. We cannot afford to hire an aide and a nursing home is out of the question. Please tell me if you have any ideas as to how we can restore some of the quality of life for everyone in my home without sacrificing anyone.
Aging and how we age is, unfortunately, not our choice. With G-d’s grace, we all hope to age in good health, with all our faculties even at the age of 120, but sadly, most of us don’t. Any trauma or drastic life-altering event, for some, hastens the onset of dementia, Altzheimer’s disease or hardening of the arteries (often a natural progression in old age). However, there are a few red flags that set your mother’s symptoms apart and could be indicative of another issue which your family doctor did not catch.
I suggest that you take her to a neurologist because some of her actions, the night terrors, seeing people who aren’t there, her facial ticks and tremors and her shaking hands may well indicate that she has Parkinson’s disease and requires a regimen of medications drugs to help her manage it.
I wish I could tell you that there will be a marked recovery if she is diagnosed with something other than old age ailments, but sadly, I cannot. However, we need to do everything we can to make her comfortable and to alleviate the extreme symptoms she suffers – especially the ones that make her shut down and close out the world and those who love her. Some of her quality of life may well be restored and any improvement is a welcomed expectation.
As I said, though, we all hope to age well, we need to do all in our power to help those who cannot help themselves.