As many of you know, my father received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s in late July. (Thank you to everyone who has offered their prayers & support- I appreciate that more than I can say!) Also, my husband’s father was diagnosed with dementia last year.
My husband & I are both afraid of what the future holds, since these diagnoses are very painful for the victim as well as his family even under the best of circumstances. Since both of us have very dysfunctional, narcissistic parents, it probably will be even worse than the average case.
Recently, I read that if a person has Narcissistic Personality Disorder prior to the diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s, it will get worse as the disease progresses. My heart sank as I read it, but it did make sense to me.
Alzheimer’s comes on very slowly, & can develop for even years prior to receiving a diagnosis. The last few years, my father has changed- he is no longer a covert narcissist, but quite overt.
My husband’s father? He was always the overt narcissist. Then suddenly he changed- for a while, he softened up a great deal. My husband even enjoyed spending time with him for the first time. Around the time of his dementia diagnosis though, he defaulted back to his old ways.
From what I’ve read, the best way to deal with this frustrating & painful situation is to treat them as if you’re dealing with a spoiled child. Normal boundary setting won’t work anymore, because they won’t remember what you said as their memories fade or know how to react. However, if you can show them that their actions aren’t getting the desired result, you have a better chance of dealing with them.
Chances are, you are going to need someone to help in your narcissistic parent’s care. It may be too difficult on you emotionally & physically to be a full time caregiver. Start looking into options early in the diagnosis, before things get bad. Your local Department of Aging is a wealth of resources as is the Veteran’s Administration if one or both parents were in the military. If possible, find out where your parents keep their financial records, bank statements & the like in case they are needed.
One very nice lady at my local Department of Aging gave me very wise advice- always make it about them. Remind them that something benefits them, & if it also benefits me, leave that part out of the conversation. Keep all focus on them & you have a much better chance of success with your conversation.
There are also ways to deal with someone with such a disease, whether they are narcissistic or not, that you should know as well. I admit I don’t know a lot, but these seem like common sense to me. I used to take my mother’s mother to visit her husband in the nursing home. His brain was damaged after a stroke, & he became much like someone with Alzheimer’s. The nursing home kept him in the Alzheimer’s wing because of this, even though he didn’t have the disease. I don’t think he remembered me at all, so I often stayed in the background while he & my grandmother visited. I observed the other patients & how they responded to the ways they were treated. This is some of what I learned.
Be patient. This person is frustrated too that their mind isn’t working like it once did. Don’t rush him or her- wait patiently for their answer instead. If you need to remind them of something, do so gently.
Have a schedule, but be flexible. For example, if you usually go to the grocery store on Tuesday, but the patient doesn’t feel like it, skip going. Postpone the trip until the following day. Or, find someone to sit with him or her while you go alone.
Be respectful. If someone says they forgot something that you told them, don’t get frustrated & say something like “I told you this six times already!” Just gently remind him or her again without saying “I already told you…” Instead, say it like it’s the first time you’re mentioning it when possible.
Respond rather than react. By this I mean that if the person says something deliberately hurtful to you, stop for a second, take a deep breath to calm down a bit, then respond. Reacting with anger only upsets you both, & if the person is narcissistic, this can really start problems for you. I had to do this recently with my father. He asked how my in-laws are doing. Mind you, he knows I haven’t spoken to them since 2002 because of how they treated me. I took a deep breath & told him I don’t know or care- if he cares so much, talk to them about it & leave me out of this. I said so calmly but firmly (then vented to my poor husband after I hung up the phone..). So far, no more comments, but if there are, I will say the exact same thing again & again. He doesn’t get upset, & I don’t end up feeling guilty because I yelled at my father.
Remember, many people with Alzheimer’s or dementia forget someone they knew has passed on or mistake you for someone else. Just go along with it- what could it hurt if they think you are their mother, for example? One day while visiting my step grandfather in the nursing home, a man who obviously had advanced Alzheimer’s thought I was his daughter. I let him. It seemed to give him joy for a few minutes, he obviously loved his daughter a great deal, then suddenly he was done & walked away. No harm was done, & he was happy for a brief time.
Sometimes silence is a good thing. Sometimes just sitting quietly with the person is comforting. Or kind gestures, such as offering a manicure or combing their hair.