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Worried about very paranoid and depressed MIL - anyone have experience of dementia?

(29 Posts)
DuchessOfWeaseltown Sat 27-Feb-16 19:59:42

I shoudl start by saying she has had no diagnosis of dementia, nobody has even mentioned dementia (apart from me) but it's just ringing alarm bells.

That said, she has been generally depressed for a long time now (roughly a decade, during which she divorced FIL - unclear whether depression a symptom or a cause of the divorce but she's certainly been even less happy since the divorce, 7 years ago).

She has huge levels of paranoia about a lot of things - friendship issues etc, where she often accuses friends of upsetting her with what seem like fairly minor (if that) slights.

She has HUGE levels of paranoia about my family (ie DH's ILs) whom she has always loathed (The feeling unfortunately is mutual. So she's not paranoid that they don't like her, she is correct that they don't like her. It's just the manifestation of it in her that makes me call it 'paranoia' IYSWIM). She seems to genuinely believe that my family arrange social events with the sole intention of excluding her and that while at these social events they talk about her behind her back. Nothing could be further from the truth. My parents don't like her but I expect she crosses my mum's mind roughly once a year - she just isn't on her radar. They certainly have never mentioned her in my presence (I only know that they don't like her because of some fallout after our wedding years ago) and my mum would never say anything negative about her to me.

At Christmas my mum did in fact send her a gift (olive branch, sort of) but MIL has been going on and on to DH about what a meaningless gesture it was as there was no nice note.

She has recently 'accused' DH of 'spending too much time with them' (my family) and claimed that he has been talking about them a lot. Again, just not true - DH sees my family only once every 3 months and certainly hasn't been telling stories about spending time with them as he knows his mum has issues. Also though he gets on fine with my family, that's as far as it goes. They're his in-laws, he likes some aspects of them and finds others wearing, he certainly doesn't have a high old time when we do see them so he'd never be 'concealing' anything about the relationship from his mum.

When he told her all this in a recent conversation (DH said he felt as if she had ambushed him) he asked her to list the times he had been talking about my family. She wasn't able to come up with a single occasion. But she said even if it might be 'fantasy' he (DH) still has to take account of what she says as her 'feelings are real'.

DH is pretty robust with her, and has always been able to be, but he said it's impossible talking to her these days as she just makes things up and he can't tell how much of it she really believes or whether she's just depressed and looking to pick a fight.

She gets visibly agitated when DD talks about her cousins (on my family's side) and will say things that imply she thinks she is in some sort of competition with them (They are kids of 7 and 5)

Reecently she was also angry with her other son as well as DH because 'not enough fuss' was made about her on her birthday. (They arranged a family dinner which we all attended and nice presents were bought... when challenged on what the problem was she wasn't able to articulate it but just said she thought 'more fuss' should have been made).

She is VERY and increasingly aggressive with strangers whom she perceives to have been rude to her. This can be anything from not saying thank you when she holds a door (admittedly I find this annoying and always have!) to imagining that someone has deliberately bumped into her in the street when they have barely brushed her. She is incredibly intolerant of children and got very agitated about two small boys at a bus queue who were genuinely being nothing other than... er... small boys. Jumping up and down a bit, hopping around etc. She will very loudly and aggressively challenge people if she feels they have been rude or badly behaved. Or rather, passive-aggressively challenge them and then loudly bitch about them as she walks off. It got so bad at one point that DH and his brother tried to tell her she was going to get yelled back at or worse one day. But apparently 'everyone is rude' and so she stands her ground.

Sorry, this has been epic... what I am wondering is, if anyone has experience of the early signs of dementia, if this rings any bells. fwiw it is a big change of character, albeit a slow change, from when I first knew her.

She is just 70.

She is constantly in tears, constantly upset, she gets very obsessive about details, she is anxious.

'Just' depression/anxiety?

If something more (eg dementia) - what can or should we do? Thought of suggesting it is horrifying - she will be outraged/more paranoid than ever.

Any advice at all?

fwiw I love my MIL, she has generally been a great MIL, but it has been very hard not to take some of her nastiness and paranoia personally recently. She was also very bad around the point of our wedding a few years ago and DH inadvertently went NC for a while but she seemed to improve and they always in the past had a good enough relationship to work on it.

He is finding it very difficult - he has job stress and health stress - and he feels as if she is constantly creating drama where none exists.

AttilaTheMeerkat Sat 27-Feb-16 20:07:40

What does your DH think of his mother?.

FWIW I think she has always been "difficult" and very unhappy with her lot in life and has simply become more unreasonable with advancing age. It does not sound like the onset of dementia, all this with her started many years ago. She does not come across at all as a nice person to be at all around so why do you persist in having or wanting a relationship with her?.
Would you have tolerated such from a friend?.

Why do you write your DH inadvertently went NC for a while; what are the circumstances behind that decision made?. Did you yourself want to reinstate contact and if so why?.

DuchessOfWeaseltown Sat 27-Feb-16 20:22:42

Attlia, thank you for replying!

He went NC in the sense that he just stopped calling her as she was so difficult every time they spoke. Every conversation led to an attack. She felt he had taken FIL's 'side' in the divorce and took out a lot of her anger on him.

I can't really remember how contact was reinstated but it was a gradual thing. She was much better for quite a long time albeit still capable of suddenly becoming irrationally upset over some perceieved issue.

What does DH think of her... pretty much the same as I do, though obviously slightly more compliacted by filial ties. He is a very emotionally-honest man (ironically something his mother brought him up to be - she was not always like this, in fact she used to be very empathetic and caring) and he is 'good' at confrontation by which I mean he doesn't shy away from it and is good at having tough discussions without getting upset/it becoming a slanging match. HIs take is that she is lonely and depressed and that this is manifesting itself in paranoia and her 'attacks'. Which is pretty much what you've just said above, I guess?

It's complicated (isn't it always?!) For the first 30-odd years of DH's life she was a really, REALLY great mum. She was a great MIL to me for the first 10 years of our rel/ship. Like, the opposite of the nightmare MIL you read about on here (!) - non-interfering, thoughtful, respectful, supportive etc etc.

It all changed.

The issue with my family is tough to unpick because in one sense it is 'real'. They genuinely dislike her, partly because she behaved badly around our wedding, and partly because my own mum is a very judgemental person who is suspicious of other women. Neither side comes out covered in glory in their (non-existent) relationship, trust me! But I really get annoyed about the fact that it seems to BOTHER MIL in the way that it does. She hasn't seen my parents for almost 10 years and has no reason to see them in the upcoming future. I can't understand why she sits around stewing about them and then demands to see DH simply to go on and on about them...

cocochanel21 Sat 27-Feb-16 20:31:54

It doesn't sound like the onset of dementia. My mum's had dementia for 7 years it started off with her forgetting simple things like app times,paying bills on time and she probably was a bit depressed at the time. Sadly it's a lot worse now.

Would she let you go to her GP together and talk it over with them.

DuchessOfWeaseltown Sat 27-Feb-16 20:36:37

Coco, sorry about your mum flowers

God, no. Never in a million years would she let that happen!! I can just imagine the fallout... Tears and hysteria.

Joysmum Sat 27-Feb-16 20:54:01

There are a number of different types of dementia. Paranoid delusions certain is a symptom although not all will get them.

Take a look on the Alzheimer's Org we by as there's lots of info in there about the different types, and different symptoms and stages.

Skiptonlass Sat 27-Feb-16 20:58:10

It is very, very difficult to diagnose dementia in its early stages. There are many different types and each can manifest very differently depending on the person.

Personality changes are common. Other early signs are things like difficulty with finding words, memory difficulties, inappropriate behaviour, aggression, depression and apathetic behaviour. Loss of sense of smell is often reported too. But even professionals find it difficult. I've worked on dementia trials where we've all had long discussions with the medics and psychiatrists on whether a specific patient has dementia or not.

Maybe think about the situation she's in - is she on her own with time to stew and obsess? Did this start suddenly? Was there a trigger event?

Depression is really common in the over 60s. It's very much under diagnosed. I don't know if you're close enough to do this (or if your Dh is) but could you talk diplomatically with her along the lines of "you seem really down and anxious, have you had a quick check up with the GP just to rule out any physical causes?"

junebirthdaygirl Sat 27-Feb-16 21:00:58

My Mil had dementia but before we realised that she got very paranoid. Thought everyone was talking about stuff and not telling her. Said fil never gave her money. Totally not true. Even when my dh would then give her money she would tell the next family member my dh never gave her anything. Caused quit a lot of trouble between people with petty grievances. Got upset if someone visited another family member in same village without calling to her first. Jealous of silly things. This from a woman who was pretty independent all her life not perfect but close to her kids.

DuchessOfWeaseltown Sat 27-Feb-16 21:02:21

Thanks so much everuone.

Skipton I like the phrase as you have suggested it and yes I think DH or more likely his brother might be able to say something like that. Great advice thank you.

She is alone a lot and yes has lots of time to stew and obsess. The latest rant about my family has come hot on the heels of her being upset about her birthday and I think being miserable about her birthday has led to her seeking out other 'problems' to make her case seem more justifiable iyswim

DuchessOfWeaseltown Sat 27-Feb-16 21:03:47

Junebirthday, thanks so much for your account about your mum. How long did that phase last before she was diagnosed/displayed other symptoms?

DuchessOfWeaseltown Sat 27-Feb-16 21:04:27

June, sorry, your mil not your mum!!

AcrossthePond55 Sat 27-Feb-16 21:18:54

Dementia has many, many faces. My mum has senile dementia. She was no more forgetful than a typical 90 year old would be and she was always a loving, cheerful woman. But her personality started to change towards my brother (who lived with her). She became suspicious of him, then paranoid and accusing him of horrible crimes, then it started in on me and my sons. We were all 'in on it' with my brother, we were giving her drugs to make her sleep so we could 'talk about her money' and 'steal her things'. My brother was 'keeping women captive in his closet', my sons were 'having parties under the house'. But she was still orientated to person, place, and time. If a stranger spoke to her they'd have thought her rational and that we were all conspiring against her. Eventually she started wandering and calling the police on my brother so we had to place her in an assisted living facility. Dementia is truly horrible.

Would she agree to seeing her GP? There are 'tests' for dementia. I say 'tests' because they're verbal, not medical, and are merely checking for symptoms. They aren't definitive, but they can help pinpoint things.

TimeIhadaNameChange Sat 27-Feb-16 21:25:10

There are dementia tests online. You could try asking her a few of the questions and see how she does. It might give you a rough idea.

(I used them with an old (in both senses) boss. Would sit down with him with the questions printed out and go through them with him. With your MIL you probably wouldn't want to be so obvious, but you could just memorise a few and try dropping them into the conversation. Not that her getting them wrong would be a definite sign that she has the disease, but at least if she answered correctly you'd know it was unlikely.)

MauriceMossMug Sat 27-Feb-16 21:29:09

No answers I'm afraid Duchess but you have my sympathy.
Your MIL sounds just like my DM but she has memory loss as well. She is currently in the process of being diagnosed, although we don't know with what yet.

It's very hard. I love her to bits but when she's being aggressive with me over something she's imagined, it can be hard to bite my tongue and not take it personally.

Hopefully your DH has some luck persuading her to see the GP.

forumdonkey Sat 27-Feb-16 21:36:57

My exMIL was diagnosed with Alzheimers at 58 yrs and although she was always a difficult woman she became paranoid and very aggressive ie obsessed with the neighbours soying and talking about her and FIL having an affair with a young neighbour (ridiculous notion) . It became obvious when she stood up and swore at some poor woman in the middle of a church service. She was very paranoid

DuchessOfWeaseltown Sat 27-Feb-16 21:45:52

Thanks again everyone.

I think I will see if DH might want to open up the conversation with her, or see if he wants his brother to do it (MIL much less aggressive towards his brother, though still not great)

From what you've said on here it does sound as if aggression/paranoia COULD be something to do with dementia.

It's been a long time now that she's been like this, that's the only thing. On and off (more on than off) for a decade. Don't know if that kind of timeline makes it more likely to be simple depression?

Whatever, I can't possibly diagnose it myself, either way! I think someone probably does need to broach the issue of her general health and see if she can be persuaded to see a doctor about it.

Have forgotten a major issue a few months ago when she became absolutely convinced there were major criminals living across the road and would break down in tears at the 'stress' of it all.

Thanks everyone, this has been very helpful indeed and I will talk to DH and see what he thinks.

annandale Sat 27-Feb-16 21:56:05

It certainly sounds as if her mental health is fragile but it may not be dementia - sounds almost more like a psychotic episode. I like the low key 'you seem low and anxious' approach suggested.

I have to say I really wouldn't try to drop assessment questions into conversation. That's really unethical and also she sounds quite on the ball enough to clock what you are doing and the shit will really hit the fan. Better to focus on how she is managing - e.g. is one of the problems that she's not eating or looking after herself?

goddessofsmallthings Sat 27-Feb-16 22:04:51

She is VERY and increasingly aggressive with strangers whom she perceives to have been rude to her

If this is a recent trait, it does sound like the onset of senile dementia which often manifests as unreasonable paranoia in the early stages of the disease.

Does her short term memory appear to be impaired in any way?

silverduck Sat 27-Feb-16 22:07:38

I don't know how helpful it is but I echo the others in saying this doesn't sound like dementia to me. My mum suffers and did have some similar sounding traits but these were a contrast to what she was like before and came hand in hand with other symptoms, like not being able to follow a recipe closely, not work her sewing machine correctly, uncouple and put a pound in a trolley etc.

DuchessOfWeaseltown Sat 27-Feb-16 22:08:39

goddess, I was just about to answer 'not really' about the short-term memory thing. But then I thought - she has one particular 'story' or more accurately 'piece of information' that she must have heard on the news a few months ago - just a random story about something to do with teenage girls. She has repeated this story every single time I or DH have seen her since, as if iit is the first time she is recounting it every time.

Does that make sense? It's like she has literally no idea she has told us the story several times before.

Other than this one example, no, I can't think of any other noticeable short-term memory issues.

She does v occasionally seem confused by things, but this is more often in the context that she is trying to get aggressive about something incredibly minor, and seems to be tying herself up in knots trying to come up with some explanation for it.

goddessofsmallthings Sat 27-Feb-16 22:13:23

It all changed

If her personality change was sudden, I'd have concern that she may have suffered a series of mini-strokes but only a MRI or CT scan can reveal whether this is the case.

Perhaps your dh or bil can speak to her GP and find a reason why she should attend the surgery - the GP could call her in for a general health check or similar and make any referral they may consider necessary.

goddessofsmallthings Sat 27-Feb-16 22:16:47

That makes perfect sense to me and, together with the confusion you've mentioned, it confirms the possibility that there may be a physical cause for her apparent paranoia and aggression.

goddessofsmallthings Sat 27-Feb-16 22:28:56

Having googled to find a test for dementia/Alzheimer's I came across this article published last year in the Fail and wondered if you could find a way to put some of the questions to your MIL?

Some would be easy to incorporate into a face to face conversation with her and perhaps you could recount a tale of a bright dc counting 1-20 backwards, say you got in a muddle, and ask MIL if she can do it, or similar.

AcrossthePond55 Sun 28-Feb-16 04:37:32

She does v occasionally seem confused by things, but this is more often in the context that she is trying to get aggressive about something incredibly minor, and seems to be tying herself up in knots trying to come up with some explanation for it.

Yes, this was one of the things my mum did. She'd state something ridiculous, like my sons partying under her house (23" dirt crawlspace!) and when we'd tell her it wasn't possible, she'd get all het up trying to find a reason why it WAS happening. Like her brain was fighting with itself, if that makes sense. Once she insisted that people COULD be under the house because she, herself, had eaten pizza there plenty of times!!!

Unfortunately I have a lot of experience of dementia.
One nan had it and my other nan is now rapidly displaying signs of it...
The early signs are things like mislaying things then blaming others. My late nan accused the gardener of stealing a spoon for example. Reminding 50 years ago but not 50 seconds ago, will ask the same question repeatedly. Mistakes people for others, I was called all of my cousins names even the boys!
Lack of interest in things previously enjoyed, very blunt attitude, my nan would literally speak her mind without realising the consequences. There are so many factors but the memory loss is key, talk about current affairs, who is prime minister, what month are we in etc, little things like that.
My nan also was very defensive ( completely out of nature ) and became obsessed with money and accused me of stealing her clothes, I'm a size 18 and she was an 8/10 sad
She also lacked awareness of security and would leave the door open or the oven on and would wander off for hours.It's a cruel cruel illness. Good luck op.

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