Mean Mom, Nice Mom and Dementia

Mean Mom, Nice Mom and Dementia
Mean Mom, Nice Mom and Dementia

My Mom

My theory of 10 years is now officially broken.  I believed that if you had a mean parent they turned nice with dementia and if you had a nice parent they would turn mean with dementia.  My random sample was everyone that I have ever spoken to about this theory.

Well, the tables have turned and my mom has turned mean again.  Years ago, the ugly side of my mom was only exposed behind closed doors.  The mental abuse for years took a tool on all my siblings and I.  In fact, when they each turned 18, all of them moved to other states.  I stayed to protect my dad.  I figured if she took half her wrath out on me, he would only be subjected to it 50 percent of the time.

In college, psychology classes opened my eyes to mental illness and depression.  After my mean mom did not attend my graduation or marriage, I was done.  A wonderful counselor taught me how to deal with it.  When I spoke to my mom and she was mean, I would say, “I am sorry that this conversation is not going the way I hoped, I have to go now, bye.”  After I did this three times, my mom’s treatment of me turned around.  She has treated me well for 28 years.

Now, she is in the late stages of vascular dementia.  I got a call two days ago saying she is yelling and swearing at the staff.  Oh boy, my nice mom is gone.  Say hello, to sundowners syndrome and her living in the past of about 30 years ago.  Yesterday, I went to spend some quality time with her.  The mean look was on her face.  My mom harshly said, “Where have you been?  You have a lot of gaul showing up now.  Why haven’t you come to see me?  Everyone is stealing all my things.  The neighbors are selling off all my clothes.  You are just showing me defiance.  I am hungry, no one has fed me in days.”  Then she pointed to one of the staff and said, “See, she is crying.”  (No staff was crying.)

Little Diane, felt she was back in high school again.  I kept my head and tried to talk her off the ledge (so to speak).  She just continued ranting and repeating what she already had said.  She was visible agitated.  I handed her the banana I had brought and she relaxed by 50%.  Every time she repeated that she was hungry, I invited her to eat the banana.  She said, “I am not hungry, I will save it for later.”  My husband and I continued to talk to her in a calm and reassuring way and an invisible sundowners switch finally turned her back to my nice mom.

About a half hour later, I explained to her that she had memory loss.  I explained how I was helping her by having a doctor (podiatrist) trim her toenails this week and she screamed, “Don’t touch me, don’t cut my nails” at the top of her lungs.  She said, “I did?  Well one doctor hurt me a long time ago.”  I told her about another doctor who came to do an eye exam and now she has new glasses and can read again.  When she said that she could not understand the staff, I said, “Yes, your hearing is bad and we have an audiologist scheduled to come in and maybe get you a hearing aid.”  She loved the explanations, enjoyed me being there, holding her hand and feeling calmness.

Eventually, I said, “Mother I heard that you were yelling and swearing at the staff this week.”  She said, “I did?  I can’t remember.  I didn’t mean to.”  Then I said, “When I came in today, you were mean to me and yelled at me.”  My mom said, “I am sorry, I didn’t mean to, I don’t remember.”  Well, all was forgiven and I was so glad that I did not walk out earlier that day by reliving the harsh criticism and mental abuse of the past.

If your parent has turned mean, just remember it is the monster disease of dementia, sundowners syndrome or Alzheimer’s.  (I know it’s easier said that done.)  As my mom sundowners continues to progress, I may have to hold onto this apology forever.  She may not have the brain cells left in vascular dementia to be cognitive enough to apologize.

Her psychiatrist says the sundowners has progressed to the point of needing medications to help her.  I am very protective of my mom and don’t want to over medicate her, but my mom has been in her own daily mental torture for about three weeks.  My goal is to keep her comfortable and pain free.  If the medications can give her peace, I am now all for them.

Please share your successes, failures or comment below to join the conversation and interact with other senior living professionals on what is currently being effective to increase occupancy on a nationwide basis.

Diane Twohy Masson is the author of “Senior Housing Marketing – How to Increase Your Occupancy and Stay Full,” available at with a 5-star rating.  The book is required reading at George Mason University as a part of its marketing curriculum.  Within this book, the author developed a sales & marketing method with 12 keys to help senior living providers increase their occupancy.   Masson developed this expertise as a marketing consultant, sought-after blogger for senior housing and a regional marketing director of continuing care retirement communities in several markets.  She has also been a corporate director of sales and a mystery shopper for independent living, assisted living, memory care and skilled care nursing communities in multiple states.  Most recently Masson was recruited to consult for two debt-free Continuing Care Retirement Communities in Southern California – Freedom Village in Lake Forest and The Village in Hemet, California.  Interestingly, this career started when she was looking for a place for her own mom and helped her loved one transition through three levels of care.

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  1. Linked In CCRC’s – Continuing Care Retirement Communities

    Great reminder ~ anyone who is involved w seniors needs to read this and remember, it is not the person, but the disease causing erratic behavior. (Usually!)
    By Debra Haight

    • Gina Rosse-Westra
      Sales Executive at MasterCare Patient Equipment, Inc

      I so agree, my Mother is just now showing the first stage signs of dementia and I really understand the whole thing of nice & mean all at the same time

      • As a chaplain working with dementia I usually see the best in a person. They still recognize me as chaplain and are mild. However, if I sneak in or dress down (I always wear a tie and usually a coat) I see them as they are with family and staff. One I will always remember was a dear lady with a wonderful family. She all of a sudden started cussing and just being nasty. Family had never heard her say a bad word. Come to find out she had 3 older brothers that treated her as one of the guys. That style and language came back after all those years. God bless all of you who care for these wonderful seniors and their caregivers. Chaplain Bill

        • Debra Haight
          Senior Care Solutions Provider – Administrator, Marketing, Admissions, Program Development

          It is a gift to understand for sure. ‘Children’ of aging parents take many of these ill effects to the grave – guilt, punishment, ‘mom liked you best’, feelings of ineptness, being inadequate – can be devasting. Parents can be so ungrateful! lol – Payback I guess :)

          • Thanks to Debra, Gina and Chaplain Bill for commenting. Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Thanks for sharing your personal story with us. Our parents do have a way of taking us back into the past at times. When I read your opening lines , I actually thought my experiences have ben the exact opposite. With Dementia, I have found that ” mom or dad” start displaying more exaggerated personality symptoms. If they were mean, they most often get meaner… or if they were always nice they get nicer or more mellow. The fact is that the disease is just horrible and everyone who has to deal with it does have to right to voice their frustrations. you mom is blessed to have you close by and able to visit. Cheryl D. Foster

    • Thanks Cheryl, it is a horrible disease.

  3. Linked In
    Anne Ahland Director of Social Services at Friendship Village Tempe

    Thanks for sharing your experiences and insights, Diane. I’m a gerontologist and my dad has dementia. I used to classify him simply as “a handful” until the dementia changed him into such a loveable person. He, too, is in a care setting.
    Recently his behavior has become less loveable and he seems to be reverting to his previous self. The caregivers and I are puzzled as we try to figure out if pain that he cannot express may be responsible for the change.

    • It’s tough trying to figure out behavior and if it is possible to correct it. This disease just seems to eat away at his or hers reason.

  4. Alzheimer s Association

    Excellent article. It reminds me to remind families of those little moments in which you may be able to reason with someone, and that they will soon disappear in some cases. Thank you.
    By Nikki Caraveo, RN, BSN, CNRN, CCM

    • Thanks Nikki, I appreciate your understanding. Behavior can change like flipping a switch.

  5. Debra Haight
    Senior Care Solutions Provider – Administrator, Marketing, Admissions, Program Development

    Thank you for posting! Happy Thanksgiving to you as well.

  6. Linked In ALFA – Assisted Living Federation of America

    Thank you for sharing this.
    By Leslie Quintanar

    • Thank Leslie! It was a tough post to hit the send button.

  7. Linked In Alzheimer s Association

    I know all too well in my work. But, more personally my Mother. I miss her like no other sometimes.
    By Nikki Caraveo, RN, BSN, CNRN, CCM

    • Nikki, it is amazing that you said that. I keep thinking that I would rather have this, than not have her. I know the time clock has started.