I live in Japan, my wife and I have her mother living with us. My wife is an only child. Her father has already passed away. Her mother started living with us about 5 years ago. At first it seemed like a good idea. In Japan they don't have senior homes and since the waiting list for government sponsored homes similar to senior homes is long (And still costs more than we could ever afford) it seemed like we were the only choice.
At first she would wake up by herself, help out around the apartment, clean, do laundry etc. We had a dog (He died last month) and she would take him to the nearby park. Before moving in with us we discovered she had Parkinson's Syndrome. The doctor told us what to expect but said that if she kept up her daily routine and took her medicine, she wouldn't see any rapid decline in health.
As we move into year 2 and 3, we started asking her NOT to do certain things around the house. Taking out the laundry being one of them because she would often fall when stepping over the edge. Falling outside in the scorching sun or freezing cold is not something we want to happen. We told her instead to just let us know the laundry is done. We would normally take it out anyways, but if we weren't home she would. We made it an effort to only do laundry when my wife or I was at home. STILL...she would on occasion do the laundry and while we appreciated the effort, the risk was just not worth it. Eventually, we had to be 'strict' about it.
We use a lot of fish and chicken, sometimes raw. When washing dishes, we have to be very thorough. My mother-in-law was not being careful with the way she washed dishes, which could spell disaster for anyone eating from those dishes.
In the end we asked her to: wake yourself up between 7 and 8am. Go to the kitchen for breakfast (Sometimes making it, sometimes warming something up) put the dishes in the sink, rinse, but don't worry about cleaning. Take your medicine. Then do what you like, watch TV, read, write, anything you like. At 2pm, the same thing for lunch and at 7 or 8pm the same for dinner. No house work, just take care of yourself. Brush your hair, brush your teeth etc.
Into year 4 she was constantly complaining. She spoke about suicide as a means of escape. This talk was JUST talk...she is not the kind of person who could do that. She wanted the attention and she got it, but not in the way she expected. My wife went ballistic. Since I'm playing referee trying to calm my wife and trying to show my mother-in-law that that kind of attitude isn't tolerated, I was on many occasions on the brink of my own emotional meltdown. By the end of the day, with the prospect of having to be admitted to the hospital for 'suicide watch' (That's what I told her, hospitals actually won't do that) she backed off her comments and apologized.
However, things kept getting worse. She would lie about her day saying she 'walked from here to there 10 times' when in fact she slept in bed the entire day not even waking up to turn on her bedroom light. She would skip her meals to the point now where if I don't put the food in front of her, she won't eat...and she will always say "This is too much." or "I don't like this." She eats too little already and her weight is far too low, especially considering her size when she first moved in, she was a bit big, especially for a Japanese lady.
The cycle went like this: WE would have to wake her up, she would open her eyes but not physically start moving until my wife used her 'angry' voice. She would complain about the food, we would ask 'What food would you prefer and we'll buy that next time.' But really she just doesn't want to eat. One day, miscommunication between my wife and I, we thought she had eaten breakfast and lunch and she had a small dinner. She then woke up at 3am hungry. We used that opportunity to say "See, this is what happens when you don't eat. You're going to have to wait until breakfast." When she got her breakfast, she complained about 'how hard life is...' When she complains, this upsets my wife. There is nobody willing to take care of my mother-in-law and yet she doesn't seem to appreciate this fact until AFTER my wife breaks down in tears.
Then, unless I put lunch in front of her, she won't eat. Same goes for dinner. We use to ask her to walk to the kitchen (About 10 meters from her bed to the kitchen chair) not far. She would complain the entire 10 meters, she would call out to her dead parents "Come get me, take me away from here." This makes things more uncomfortable for EVERYONE. Once she sits down, she complains. She eats, complains. When it's time to head back to bed though, she puts in 150 percent...because she knows she'll be able to just lay there.
She started going to a daycare service a couple years back. She took her baths there, had people to talk with and was suppose to do rehab to help her with walking. In the daily notebook used to communicate between family and daycare, she often skipped the rehab portion without even trying.
We've recently moved and she has changed daycare centers. She went without for about 3 weeks and in those 3 weeks she went from being able to walk (Although complaining the whole way) to the kitchen, to now not being able to get up in bed, walk 30 cm to a small table and chair I have setup in her bedroom. She complains the whole time. She has an excuse for EVERYTHING she doesn't do.
She is not a child but she acts like one. Treating her like a child would only make things worse, she would become more reliant on both my wife and I than we can handle. We tried to get her interested in a million different things.
The only thing that would get her moving or grab her attention was when I mentioned the dog we had. She loved the dog. It seemed to both me and my wife she loved the dog more than her own daughter. If her daughter was crying, in tears, unable to keep back the angry because of her mother's actions, she would sit there without emotion on her face. I'd ask "Do you feel anything for your daughter." She answers "Of course." but doesn't go any further. NOW...if you should say "Well, since you're not eating dinner, the isn't going to eat either." She would react in a completely different way "Why do you have to bring Doggie into this, he's just a dog." And I would say "You have no love for your daughter it seems, you've sat there and watched her cry without a single tear of remorse...but with Doggie, you jump!" And that was the way it was, if something wasn't going according to plan, Doggie was our means to getting things done. "If you don't take your medicine, I'm giving it to Doggie." "You don't want dinner, Doggie doesn't get any dinner." Of course I would not do this to our dog, but she didn't know any better.
In November 2009, after years of living under our roof, her 'sister' (Not blood related) said "I'll start taking care of her." At first, I was happy, but that happiness disappeared soon. The sister was always a conartist of sorts...something didn't seem right. The first day she moved into the place with her sister, in a different part of the country, we got phone calls about her changing over her records. My wife wasn't giving up legal guardianship to her mother, not that her mother has anything of value money wise, simply because she didn't want the sister to use her mother in some kind of scheme. The sister was a friend to my mother-in-law for a long time. We stood firm on the paper work. A month later we got a call "I can't handle this woman anymore. She doesn't eat when she's suppose to or do this or do that..." Her sister had basically given up on her and sent her on the next train home. I told her "You do this to your own sister and you aren't going to be talking to her ever again." Her reply was "That's fine."
Unfortunately, the dog stayed with the sister and this summer died. He was 18 years old, a long life for a dog like him. We never told my mother-in-law because she still thinks, on occasion, I have to be able to walk so that Doggie can come home and we can go for walks. I don't use the dog as a way of getting things done anymore though.
So, my mother-in-law and I argue. She is very much like a child...but she's not. Punishing her seems like abuse. About the only thing I could think of was saying "You know that daycare you like going to, canceled it. You're not doing anything worth their time." Sometimes she reacts, sometimes she doesn't care.
I don't know how to handle it. I sat down with a neurologist and a specialist for Parkinson's Syndrome. Both said that it was something hard and something we'd have to find a way to deal with. Her PS is no so bad that it should be affecting her legs. The doctor said it was more likely just a lack of effort, the will to do it. So what do I do...I feel like I'm stuck...
What do you think about getting another dog? Sounds like it was quite a motivator for her. I know caring for her is a major chore but I'm sure it means so much to your wife that you have and after she's gone, you'll be glad you did.
No dogs allowed in our new place. Our new apartment is much larger and more floors/rooms in total meaning more people, most of whom are elderly. I'm hoping that she somehow manages to make a friend or 2. We have a corner apartment, so just 1 neighbor to our left. The elderly couple that lives there I haven't met yet. My wife ran into the daughter who comes on occasion to take care of them.
Even if we were allowed dogs, it wouldn't be fair to the dog. Our old dog was used to being in the apartment, slept a good portion of the day, knew to go outside on the balcony to do his business, and was absolutely no hassle at all...only occasionally did he raid the garbage can.
This stress with my mother-in-law has been something that's divided us, unfortunately. I may be helping to prepare meals, get her medicine, referee the occasional outburst on both sides, make sure she's ready to go to daycare etc...but there are times when I feel she doesn't think I've done enough. She had a short lived emotional affair with an even shorter lived physical affair (Thus the move). I blame a lot of our stress on my mother-in-law, I also blame my wife for letting it get to her to the point it affects how she thinks about us. Seeing her mother like that she's become increasingly sensitive to when I'm sick, which isn't often, but the last time I had an intestinal infection and was put on antibiotics I went to the hospital and got treated etc without telling her. I use to have 2 insurance policies, one was the government one and the other a private insurance. I canceled the private insurance since everything I ever need is really taken care of by the government plan. My wife had mixed reactions to that. There was a life insurance policy on the private plan that took care of things in case of sudden death etc. The government plan, in similar cases, already takes care of things. The fact that I'm not a citizen of this country makes things even easier if the unfortunate should happen. HOWEVER, I then got myself the life insurance policy without the actually health insurance benefits, a whole lot cheaper...but that didn't seem to matter. Her emotions come in waves. She questions whether or not she can be a mother, a good mother. Seeing how she is with her own mother who is acting very much like a child she seems to think she'll be the same way with a baby. We were suppose to be in the process of baby-making...but that's been put on hold.
How do you continue to live your own life when it seems everything has been put on hold to wait for this other person to, quite simply, die. Even if she gets to the point that she needs 24hour care, she won't be going into a hospice or anything. My wife will have to quit her job and focus entirely on her mother. That's how things are done and what is expected. We're seeing a growing number of elderly people in Japan compared to d a decreased number in kids/young adults. People are just not having families anymore because they are too busy taking care of their parents. There are more issues than that I'm sure, but this is definitely a big one.
I don't know. We're all going to get old (God willing) and some of us will be disabled long before we get old. I just believe that what goes around comes around. You're doing a very honorable, admirable thing and there must be some reward in that somewhere. I'd like to think that if I took a bullet tonight on duty, my wife would care for me. Things happen for a reason. Maybe this is a patience building exercise for some challenge you must face ahead. Babies, perhaps. Who knows? Anyway, for what it's worth, I think you're a helluva guy for doing it.
Has your MIL ever been evaluated for Alzheimer's, or other dementias? It sounds very much like it. If she is suffering from it, there is much educating of yourself and your wife that you need to do. Yes, she would be very child-like(we, in another forum, referred lovingly to our Loved Ones as "Ancient Toddlers"), and as such would need specific treatment. She would not be able to make decision for her own care, especially those involving simple tasks such as eating and hygiene.
She would not be able to comprehend or remember any consequences for her actions, or lack of action. She would not be able to "learn" like a child would. Coping, day-to-day, with a parent with dementia is very like having your own child, yet the frustrations of the "child" being a full-grown adult, is sometimes overwhelming.
Dealing with dementia is extremely trying, and knowledge is the most powerful weapon you can arm yourself with..