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Published March 28, 2014, 10:35 PM

Minding our Elders: Elder’s dementia can be especially hard on teens

DEAR CAROL: My grandma has frontotemporal dementia, which has completely changed her personality. She used to be funny and loving, but now she’s mean and hard to be around. My mom says she can’t deal with Grandma and work, too, and Grandma has no one else.

By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM

DEAR CAROL: My grandma has frontotemporal dementia, which has completely changed her personality. She used to be funny and loving, but now she’s mean and hard to be around. My mom says she can’t deal with Grandma and work, too, and Grandma has no one else.

We live together in an apartment. I’m in college and I try to help Mom with Grandma, but I’m not sure how much more I can stand, either. Mom wants Grandma to go to a nursing home, but I think that’s just because she doesn’t know what else to do.

I’m 19, so I should be able to handle this, but I fight with my mom and I cry a lot. Isn’t there something better than a nursing home for Grandma? She was always so good to me.

– Karla

DEAR KARLA: It’s understandable that you are having such a hard time emotionally. You are sad. You are likely angry about your grandma’s disease and frustrated because you can’t help her. That’s completely normal. I’m sure your mom has the same feelings, and that puts you both on edge so instead of helping each other you fight.

I don’t think your mom has given up on your grandma. She most likely sees there’s not much more that can be done the way things are and nursing homes are equipped to care for people with these sad disorders.

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is caused by progressive cell degeneration in the brain’s frontal lobes, which are the areas behind the forehead, or its temporal lobes, which are behind the ears. This degeneration leads to tissue shrinkage and reduced function. Both you and your mom need to continually remind yourselves that your grandma’s behavior is caused by the disease. In other words, when your grandma says something mean, it’s the disease talking, not your grandma.

You are in college, your mom is working, and your grandma likely needs full-time care. For a time, the three of you may be able to get along with the help of hired in-home care for Grandma, but a nursing home will probably become necessary.

Most nursing homes today aren’t the awful places many were years back. Why not go with your mom and look at local nursing homes? Hopefully you’ll see people can enjoy themselves as much as their disease allows and still be safe and cared for. Remember that even if your grandma moves to a nursing home, you can visit as often as you want or are able to do so.

The Alzheimer’s Association at www.alz.org and the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) at www.alzfdn.org are both informative websites offering some special teen support. You may think that you already have enough information, but you’ll probably feel better if you know that others your age have the same problem. You also may want to ask your mom if she thinks a few counseling sessions could help you or even the two of you together. Most people need some extra support from time to time.


Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carolbursack@msn.com.

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