When does Abuse End and Dementia Start?

“What day is it?” asked the doctor at emergency.

“Friday,” Mom replied.

My brother Alex mouthed, “Lucky guess.”

What month is it?” asked the doctor.

“It’s the end of the month,” she insisted. It was. But a pretty vague answer.

“What year is it?”

“1987.” Off by over 30 years.

“How did you hurt yourself?”

“A Russian man held me kidnapped for 2 weeks.”

That’s when they called in the dementia expert. Mom scored 9 out of 30 on her cognitive test. She hadn’t been kidnapped. Mom was dehydrated and under-nourished, with feet so swollen with gout she couldn’t walk. She had forgotten to eat, drink, or take her prescribed drugs. It didn’t help that her bedroom floor was covered in a spill of pins and needles she didn’t realize were even there. One more day without medical treatment and she’d have died.

After she recovered, the hospital was concerned about sending her to live at home alone again. There was no way she was moving in with Alex or me. We had nothing to do with her after years of verbal, emotional, and physical abuse including beating me with a rake. As adults we had both become strong enough to cut her and her toxic abuse from our lives. But now this.

We tried to explain. She was banned from more retail stores than we could count, over a period of decades, for her mean behaviour. Businesses permanently refused her service for abusing their staff. The latest dentist banned her after 1 consult. Repair people swore they would never return to work on her house. Some filed incident reports.

“I think that last repair guy is going to need post-traumatic stress counselling,” said Alex. He wasn’t joking.

We could both imagine what happened from the report. She trapped him in the TV room. Screaming insults because her TV wasn’t working. What was wrong with him? How stupid could he be? Her grey eyes sizzling with rage. A cloud of venomous anger terrifying the poor man, until he grabbed his tools and fled.

“It’s kind of funny,” I said to Alex. “She’s treating people publicly exactly the way she’s always treated us privately. And publicly it’s completely unacceptable.”

“Where do you think the mean ends, and the dementia starts?”

“The mean is all her,” I said without hesitating. “The forgetfulness and confusion is the dementia.”

Still. We tried to help keep her in her house. Home care was arranged to pop in once a day. Make sure she took her pills, and had a meal or shower. In Canada, the cost of home care is based on income. When we checked through her papers to give home care the needed financial info, my jaw dropped open in shock.

Alex’s voice droned in my ear. Something about only finding stacks of divorce papers from the 1960s. The same papers copied over and over again. A newspaper clipping about the vicious divorce. Nothing more recent than 1970.
I didn’t care where her important documents had disappeared to. I only cared about the legal decision I held in my hand. “Dad tried to get access. He tried to get visitation, and the judge turned him down.”


Tears welled up in my eyes. She always screamed she wished she never had me. Or Alex. She rued the day. But nobody else cared so she was stuck with us.

“He tried,” I murmured. “She lied to us. All these years.” Forcing a rift between us and Dad at every opportunity.

We gave home care the info they needed. But Mom insisted she didn’t want help from anybody.

“What happens if she fires home care?” I asked Alex.

“What happens if they quit because she’s horrible?” He followed up to see.

Turns out it doesn’t matter if she has severe dementia. She has the right to refuse care. She has the right to refuse help even if it’s needed to keep her medicated, and eating enough to keep her alive. They won’t put her in a safe dementia care facility when she wants to be at home.

I feel guilty for leaving her to her own devices. Despite the tattoo I got as a reminder not to cave in and reconnect. But this woman will never stop being an abuser. It didn’t start with dementia. The dementia has only made her forget to hide the mean. That’s where her dementia starts.

Photo by aris-sfakianakis at Unsplash

Jan L. Mayes MSc writes horror fiction and non-fiction, and is an Eric Hoffer Award winning author, blogger, and audiologist. She’s a member of A Writer’s Path Writing Club and The Ladies of Horror Fiction.


4 thoughts on “When does Abuse End and Dementia Start?”

  1. I’m so sorry you have to deal with all of this. It’s good to hear that you’re doing everything you need to do to protect yourself.

    And I could be in your shoes in a decade or so. Maybe even sooner than that. I also have abusive relatives whom I will not be taking care of when they grow old.

    People who haven’t been through it don’t always understand, but there are excellent reasons for refusing to care for an elder in some families.

    1. Definitely. I think it’s important to talk about. I’m surprised how many people have opened up about abusive relatives since I’ve shared this. Thanks for your support.

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