My 80-year-old Mother Has Become Delusional and Verbally Abusive

The Japan News

Dear Troubleshooter:

I’m a part-time worker in my 50s. I’m asking for advice about my mother, who is 80 years old and has lived alone since my father died 25 years ago. I’m the older of her two daughters. Both my sister and I live in the same city as my mother.

My mother was the type who relentlessly pushed her children to study. She has been interfering in my life since I was very young.

She has been delusional and verbally abusive to me and my sister for the past two years, exhausting us both.

She once claimed that she couldn’t find any property records and that I was sneaking in and going through them while she was away from her house.

When I told my mother that this could be a symptom of dementia, she vehemently denied it. She has no symptoms that interfere with her daily life, although her legs are getting weaker.

Some people have told me that she must be lonely as she gets older.

I try to imagine living with her, but I think it’s unlikely that I could endure it with all the interference and verbal abuse. What should I do as the eldest daughter?

U, Hyogo Prefecture

Dear Ms. U:

Your mother must have been a strong person who was overzealous regarding her children’s education when you were a child and who lived alone for 25 years after your father died.

It is very painful for a mother like her to accept the reality that she is physically and mentally declining.

So she thinks someone else must be responsible when she has trouble remembering things like missing documents.

When she is told that this is an illusion, she feels that her very self is being negated and she has no choice but to rebel violently.

If you tell her that living alone must be lonely, your mother may find it hard to accept, because it seems to her as if her own abilities are being denied.

Therefore, if she tells you something that is obviously baseless, it is best to be vague and say, “I didn’t do anything like that.” You also should keep some distance from her.

For example, you might suggest that she ask for public assistance, such as having a care manager assigned to her, explaining that you can’t always help her.

Your mother may not accept your suggestion right away. However, having a professional third party will make it easier for you to maintain an appropriate distance from your mother.

You are compassionate, but it is important not to feel too guilty for having some distance from her.

Yutaka Ono, psychiatrist