Likely Memory Issues Fractures Loving Family

Posted by: Kathy Harmon on 7/12/2010

Dear Kathy,


My sisters and I are blessed with a large family, including several aunts who are in their eighties and beyond.  My sister’s husband, Pete, has been a loving caretaker for one widowed aunt, Jen, who has a comfortable retirement income and continues to live at home.  Pete mows her lawn, takes her to church and her various appointments and errands, and repairs anything that breaks.  She is also closely monitored by one of her younger sisters who visits frequently.


A few weeks ago, Aunt Jen decided that Pete had stolen a valuable coin collection that was locked in her safe.  She believes that he entered her home while she was out with a friend and stole the collection.  She confided her suspicion to her sister, and the news quickly spread throughout the family.  She has never confronted Pete.  Their relationship became strained immediately and now Pete won’t go "where he’s not wanted.”  He’s devastated as is my sister.  We knew that Jen was becoming increasingly forgetful, but like most families, we thought it wasn’t a serious problem.  My family is fractured and none of us know what to do now.  We really need some advice.

Dottie in Danforth


Dear Dottie,

It is certainly true that some level of forgetfulness accompanies aging.  But your aunt may be experiencing the onset of Alzheimer’s or any of the more than 130 known dementias.  Various medications can cause this problem as well.  We all tend to ignore situations like this, hoping they’ll somehow get better on their own, though they rarely do.  The problem, of course, is that the longer this is allowed to fester, the more harm it will do and the more difficult it will be to remedy.  I assume Pete and others know her doctor.  Make a call to the physician’s office and explain the situation.  The doctor cannot talk about Jen’s medical condition or diagnosis without her consent, but he or she can listen to your concerns and make recommendations. 


If her doctor is not helpful, there are other geriatric specialists who might be helpful.  Perhaps you could approach a minister she trusts or a geriatric psychologist or manager might be hired to conduct an assessment.  Whatever the approach, it is definitely time to be proactive. 


I offer one word of caution: you may not be able to fix this.  If your aunt is stricken with some dementia, she may be experiencing fear, anger, paranoia and wholesale, uncontrollable changes in her personality.  Nonetheless, you and your family should come together in a spirit of understanding and forgiveness for her, for Pete, and for the family as a whole.

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