Author Topic: maintaining physical boundaries without sounding cruel  (Read 6824 times)

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mime

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maintaining physical boundaries without sounding cruel
« on: June 19, 2013, 08:02:46 PM »
BG: DH and I have been married 17 years. My MIL and I have always been friendly, but not especially close. This comes from both sides: I'm kind of quiet, and she has always been a bit abrasive, but not necessarily mean or rude. We just never really connected.
End BG

Now MIL has Alzheimer's disease. I can handle the forgetfulness and her discomfort outside of her routine. The hard part for me is her total change in personality. She has now become very touchy-feely and extremely sentimental. I'm having trouble with this. She cries when she sees me and talks about how she prays for the soon-to-arrive baby (this conversation is repeated every five minutes), then she hugs me over and over, strokes my hair, etc. I'm really not comfortable with this.

DH doesn't quite see it because he mostly interacts with FIL. I swear the two of them are in their own little world and blind to everything else when they're together. I on the other hand have had to lock the doors to my bathroom (which is only accessible through my bedroom, and well away from the rest of the house) just to keep her from walking in while I'm in there if she knows that's where I am. I've started to distance myself during visits.

I need to find the right words to talk to DH about this so he at least knows how I feel, but it is already hard for him watching his mom deteriorate. I've taken a few tries at this, but I must not have been blunt enough.

I certainly don't expect to make MIL act the way she used to or be anything other than who she is now, but at the same time I don't want the invasion of my personal space.

What options do I have?


crella

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Re: maintaining physical boundaries without sounding cruel
« Reply #1 on: June 19, 2013, 09:15:42 PM »
People with Alzheimer's often show this kind of 'shadowing' behavior (following you into the bathroom, being right behind you), but other than locking the bathroom door, I don't think there's a lot you can do about it. Depending on how far along she is, and what she enjoys, could you give her a task to complete, say folding laundry or sorting things, so that you can have some time to yourself?

The repeating etc is frustrating but it's here to stay. Deciding on stock answers for each of the most common repeated questions and just automatically giving those may be less stress for you than investing in it like it's normal conversation. Only for the repeated stuff! Meaningful give and take will become less and less over time, treasure it,. However, you can only answer the same question 50 times or so without starting to feel aggravated. Find out what the seed of concern or fear is behind the question, and devise a stock answer that relieves it and repeat, repeat, repeat.

As for the touchy-feely aspect, that's tough...could you redirect her by returning some of the touching? Pat her shoulder as you gently direct her hands off you, or squeeze her shoulder a bit as you guide her away from you to a chair? Take her hands off your hair, give them a nice long squeeze.  Finesse out of it and redirect? Because I don't think you will be able to stop it, it's where she is now and you'll have it as long as it lasts. It may not last for the duration of the disease. I don't mind the touching, but I don't handle the floods of tears well...there isn't anything you can do, the reason is not clear, I say things to make MIL feel better or perhaps try and make her laugh, but it is uncomfortable.

Edited to change 'stick answers' to 'stock answers' as I originally intended  :)
« Last Edit: June 19, 2013, 10:49:49 PM by crella »

AvidReader

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Re: maintaining physical boundaries without sounding cruel
« Reply #2 on: June 19, 2013, 09:33:27 PM »
I had a colleague, who in a previous career had worked with ALZ patients.  When a dear neighbor (DN) started exhibiting such signs (repeating the same little stories every few minutes, the loss of social boundaries, etc.)  my colleague told me that they are reverting to a childlike behavior and to a degree, you can treat them like a child even though it means saying things you would never say to another adult. 

For example, my DN would knock on my door and ask to come in for a visit three or four times a day; she was doing this to everyone in the neighborhood.  Then she would see some bananas in a bowl and ask for one or see some photos on the counter and start browsing through them.  Things that adults just. don't. do.  Loss of boundaries. 

My colleague said to treat the situation as if a small neighbor child knocked on the door and asked if my small child could come out to play.  It is easy to say matter of factly, "no, little Johnnie cannot come outside right now."  It was not easy to tell my DN that now was not a good time for a visit and to just quietly close the door, but the alternative was not workable for me.   

It is up to you to vocalize the boundaries over and over and over.  So, if your MIL starts to touch you, just respond with, "Don't touch/hug me.  Don't touch my hair now."  And gently remove her hand.  Always use a matter of fact voice, your normal conversational tone, no need to be harsh or cruel or express anger or impatience.  And expect to have to rinse, lather and repeat.  It will take some patience on your part, but just think of your MIL's unfortunate situation as though she was a small child who has not learned social boundaries yet. 

*inviteseller

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Re: maintaining physical boundaries without sounding cruel
« Reply #3 on: June 19, 2013, 09:48:15 PM »
You can set boundaries, but do remember, those boundaries will not be remembered.  The MIL you knew is no longer the MIL you have and you have to adjust to that, and I know personally how difficult it can be.  My grandfather went from being one of the kindest, most gentle man you ever would meet  to a screaming, violent person we didn't know.  A co worker I was extremely close to and my next door neighbor went from intelligent, vibrant women into paranoid angry women.  My friends mom went from a happy go lucky lady into a woman who sat in a shair all day and cried.  It is a horrible disease for those around the them.  While it is easy to get angry and frustrated with them, it will get you no where because they just don't understand.  POD to AvidReader about gently removing her hands and telling her, as you would a toddler "please do not touch".  Also, you say your DH and his dad are not acting aware..they are but many choose to ignore the signs and behaviors (yes, dad I am looking at you..my step mother is showing all the signs too and he just ignores it!).  You need to have a conversation with your DH now about her on going care if you don't want to be the one to do it (it does, unfortunately fall to a woman family member most of the time). 

magician5

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Re: maintaining physical boundaries without sounding cruel
« Reply #4 on: June 19, 2013, 10:38:37 PM »
Give. Tolerate. Endure the discomfort.

It was not idly that they used to call this "second childhood." Her fears and feeling of needing comfort by closeness may not be rational to you or me, but they are real to her. God forbid it should happen, but someday you may need someone to do the same for you.
There is no 'way to peace.' Peace is the way.

SPuck

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Re: maintaining physical boundaries without sounding cruel
« Reply #5 on: June 20, 2013, 07:45:15 AM »
I agree it is his job to say something to your husband and have him talk to his father. New routines have to be made, and major discussions are in order. I am not sure what to say, but I am sure other posters can come up with suggestions.

Zizi-K

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Re: maintaining physical boundaries without sounding cruel
« Reply #6 on: June 20, 2013, 09:06:50 AM »
It sounds like there's two related issues going on. First, your MIL has had a change in personality due to her disease and is touching you (and others) more than is normal or wanted. Second, it sounds like when you and DH visit your ILs, your husband and FIL "disappear," leaving you to deal with MIL.

Other people have given great advice for dealing directly with MIL. It's not as if your DH can have a talk with MIL and tell her to stop doing it - that obviously wouldn't work. But it sounds like what you really want is for DH to engage more with MIL so that she's not alone and free to follow you around and into the bathroom. It's not OK for DH and FIL to dump her on you and retreat to the den (or garage or wherever). That would be the starting point of a conversation with your DH. If he refuses to cooperate or is still pulling a disappearing act, then you might physically lead MIL to wherever DH and FIL are camping out, saying "I have to use the bathroom" or "I have to run some errands, so you're going to spend some time with DH now!"

crella

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Re: maintaining physical boundaries without sounding cruel
« Reply #7 on: June 20, 2013, 09:21:32 AM »
Second, it sounds like when you and DH visit your ILs, your husband and FIL "disappear," leaving you to deal with MIL.

The family-family (as I jokingly call it), ie, sons, husbands, etc often don't want to face it. FIL probably needs a break, because he's there all the time dealing with it and your DH can't quite face it yet, so they take off.  It took 3 years for DH to admit we had a problem,although I think that may be longer than usual  :D DH avoided his mother pre-AD as she was a bit toxic. I had to dive in and get her help and aides etc while he continued to mumble 'She's always been difficult, this is the way she's always been' while inside my head I'm screaming "Not!".

Give him a bit more time, and then have a heart-to-heart? 

TootsNYC

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Re: maintaining physical boundaries without sounding cruel
« Reply #8 on: June 20, 2013, 09:26:31 AM »
There are support groups and counselors/coaches available for families of Alzheimer's patients.

Perhaps seeking that out might give you and your DH a helpful and construcive context in which to have that conversation.

Then any critical tone, any complaints, any emotions might be buffered by being framed in the "this is difficult, to cope w/ MIL's Alzheimer's" instead of coming across as a free-floating "you need to fix this, there's something wrong with you for not controlling your mother/for abandoning me to interact with her."

Zizi-K

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Re: maintaining physical boundaries without sounding cruel
« Reply #9 on: June 20, 2013, 09:30:14 AM »
Second, it sounds like when you and DH visit your ILs, your husband and FIL "disappear," leaving you to deal with MIL.

The family-family (as I jokingly call it), ie, sons, husbands, etc often don't want to face it. FIL probably needs a break, because he's there all the time dealing with it and your DH can't quite face it yet, so they take off.  It took 3 years for DH to admit we had a problem,although I think that may be longer than usual  :D DH avoided his mother pre-AD as she was a bit toxic. I had to dive in and get her help and aides etc while he continued to mumble 'She's always been difficult, this is the way she's always been' while inside my head I'm screaming "Not!".

Give him a bit more time, and then have a heart-to-heart?


Elder care often falls to women because we give men the "luxury" of looking the other way. Can you imagine a daughter treating her own parents the same way? (you can, but it's a lot harder, right?) I don't have the kind of relationship with my MIL in which I would feel comfortable jumping in the way you did, nor would I feel particularly obliged to do so. (There are a variety of factors, distance being one.) If it were my situation, I would advocate hard to my DH and his siblings to do X, Y, and Z. But I don't think that coddling DH is the right answer. He's a big boy and can handle facing his mother's decline. There are lots of mental health options (individual therapy, support groups, etc) if he is having difficulty with it. But I don't agree that the wife's job is to quietly clean up the mess and do the heavy lifting so the husband can maintain the fiction that nothing's wrong. At least, that's not the kind of relationship or role that I would ever want to have, personally.

Pen^2

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Re: maintaining physical boundaries without sounding cruel
« Reply #10 on: June 20, 2013, 10:00:57 AM »
Second, it sounds like when you and DH visit your ILs, your husband and FIL "disappear," leaving you to deal with MIL.

It does appear like this. I can understand it from FIL, but you need to talk with your husband and be very factual about things so he doesn't wave it away as nothing major. Talking with MIL might not have much point if her memory is going. Ideally, decide on a phrase or something where he'll know you're at your limit so he can take over. "DH, MIL hasn't had much of a chance to talk with you yet" sounds harmless enough to anyone else.

My grandmother was like this. She would suddenly appear next to me and clutch my arm in an iron grip like we were best friends (despite always being rather aloof in the past), and would press her whole body against mine while stroking my hair and getting her hands irrevocably tangled. It was horrible, and not something I could endure for hours on end. I would just instantly take a few steps away while smiling apologetically. "Sorry, I just did my hair and I don't want the style to fall apart yet," "my arm is sore from the gym yesterday, please don't touch it," or similar excuses would sometimes be said to stop her simply walking back to me and repeating the behaviour. I've never styled my hair in my life, but it got the point across, or at least stopped her rubbing her hands over it.

Endure what you can, but don't feel like you have to put up with very major things, like following you into the bathroom and so on. Sure she's getting old and out of touch, but that doesn't isn't a free ticket to do anything she wants--use small things to prevent her going too far as soon as they occur. I found sitting down together was good, because I could distance the chairs somewhat, and she wouldn't be able to suddenly reach out and put her hand on my face. Shorter visits were good, too.

I hope you can find a way to work this out. Talk with your husband first and foremost, though, so you're both on the same page. He might want to dismiss it (it can be hard to accept), in which case, you might have to be unavailable for future visits until he decides he's able to support you.

Eden

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Re: maintaining physical boundaries without sounding cruel
« Reply #11 on: June 20, 2013, 10:49:39 AM »
I think the only thing that can really be addressed is you not being left alone with MIL because it makes you uncomfortable. This is between you and your DH only. I don't think other boundaries are really reasonable given the circumstances.

Arrynne

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Re: maintaining physical boundaries without sounding cruel
« Reply #12 on: June 20, 2013, 11:07:51 AM »
Crella's suggestion to "redirect" her touching is a good one.  If you don't want her touching your hair, maybe you could hold her hand for a while, then see if she'll latch on to an inanimate object (photo, pillow, etc).  Or possibly redirect to a friendly pet. My grandpa would happily sit for hours with my dog on his lap.  Fortunately, my dog thought this was the best thing -ever-. Simply telling your MIL to not touch you won't help much. 

Locking the door behind you is good.   Try to find other ways to maintain physical space. Stand on the opposite side of your husband from MIL.  Hang out with your husband and FIL.  MIL will likely follow, but you'll have some additional people as a buffer. 

Is there really a baby on the way? or is this one of your MIL's walks down memory lane?  If there really is a baby be cautious about MIL holding the baby.  My GMIL was in the end-stages of Alzheimers and dementia when the two youngest great-grandchildren joined the family.  She wouldn't do anything to hurt the baby, but it was very difficult to extract the infants from Grandma's arms when they needed to go back to their mommies.

LibraryLady

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Re: maintaining physical boundaries without sounding cruel
« Reply #13 on: June 20, 2013, 11:20:42 AM »
I, my 4 siblings and spouses, am/are going through this with my mother.  While she is still with us mentally for the most part, her long term memory is pretty much gone.    There is help in "therapeutic" lies.  These are lies that will not hurt anything; when mother was convinced that she was in her long ago home town and had been left there, and people needed to come get her (and I was 250 miles away), I told her that I would call them to come get her - well of course she was at her home.  I told them they had car troulbe and they would be there the next day to pick her up.  The next mroning Mom was fine.

As other posters have said, like Pen^2 "I just did my hair" - no mussing it; when you don't even style your hair; this is a way to re-direct actions that a sharp, angry voice would agitate MIL into tears or other painful behavior.

This is a very hard road to travel and I do urge respite care and getting help for FIL too.

LL

SPuck

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Re: maintaining physical boundaries without sounding cruel
« Reply #14 on: June 20, 2013, 11:23:10 AM »
It is not mime's job to take over the care and watching of her husband's mother. It is hard enough taking of your own parents in this stage of life, when anyone reaches that point it should only be left to someone who wants to do it or has the training.