My dad was sectioned today. How to cope?
January 25, 2021 12:33 AM   Subscribe

I'm not sure how to take care of my own mental health during this time.

My dad has recently been stressed about bills which I offered to help him with initially but he declined. I stopped offering. We had one of many arguments (this time because he refused to wash his hands after leaving the house despite being vulnerable to COVID). During the argument he suggested he was not coping with the bills (I found out after that he is in debt but paying it off). I said I didn't know how to help him. His mental health has since deteriorated and I blame myself completely. I should have listened. I should have offered to help again. Instead we argued. I argued with an old man. Who does that? He has since deteriorated quite rapidly.

Recently he started losing his memory. He would misplace keys or his glasses then accuse me or my mother of stealing them. One day last week I went to the toilet in the middle of the night and he followed me with a hand weight/dumbbell. He stood there waiting for me. I told him if he attacks me that I would go to the police. It seemed to scare him into stopping as he did not follow me the next time I left my room.

He has always been paranoid and mistrusting and I feel we normalised that or got used to it as a family. He has recently started seeing people who aren't there and was convinced that there were three people in the corridor. Yesterday he didn't recognise me or my mother and said he was leaving the house to see his family. He actually went to the police to tell them that our neighbours were threatening him (they weren't). They brought him back. He left the house again at 11pm. I called the police who came but he returned on his own and it transpired that he forgot about the previous police incident that occurred only a few hours prior. The police told us to get him to a doctor but he refused "No! I'm not crazy".

This morning he was very confused and didn't know where he was. He said "I don't know what's going on. It's strange". I felt so sad for him and asked if he would allow me to call an ambulance and he said "they probably need to do examinations". It was the first time all week he admitted he needed help and I called the ambulance. They checked his pulse. It was irregular and slow. I mentioned the memory loss and they said he would get a full check up at the hospital which he did.

I received a call this afternoon saying his health was fine but that he was showing signs of paranoia and they wanted to check with us about the things he was saying. They also told us that if he agreed he could come back home and a nurse would visit each day to administer medicine. They called in a crisis team but he refused the idea of home treatment, said again that he wasn't crazy and so they have detained him.

I feel so awful. I feel 100% responsible for his demise. I should have paid the bills (we all live together). I should have paid his debt. I feel he developed dementia because he wanted to forget his troubles. He couldn't cope. I feel guilty for arguing with him. I forgot he's just an old man and instead gave into the parent-child dynamic I should have dropped as a teenager. We have never got along - he was a bully to my mother who I always jumped in to defend - and he told me everything was better before I was born. I now feel even more guilty because he has been sectioned. I can't stop imagining how scared he must be (he's in his early 80s). He's so alone. He just thought he was going for a check up at the hospital and he ends up being detained. He must feel so betrayed and frightened.

I can't wrap my head around this week's events. My head keeps moving back and forth between each recent event, other past events, fears for the future and guilt about everything. I often feel like I'm going to panic so I have to make myself take a deep breath which sort of works but I need more tools.

How do I deal with this? I can't settle my mind.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Firstly, I want to give you a HUGE HUG. Dementia happens for many reasons but I want you to know that you did not cause it.

You did not cause this.

To be honest, a lot of this reminds me of my father as he developed Lewy Body Dementia related to his Parkinson's Disease. But of course, your father needs a proper diagnosis from a physician. There are many types of dementia and even more causes.

I'm so, so sorry you're going through this. It's unbelievably awful to watch a parent deteriorate in this way and obviously this is hurting you.

But you did not cause this.

As far as actions go, keep in touch with the doctors and ask about a neurological workup.

I know that therapy is often the go-to answer and I would gently suggest that you do seek some counseling for yourself in dealing with your own feelings. Be kinder to yourself.

You did not cause this.
posted by NotTheRedBaron at 12:51 AM on January 25, 2021 [29 favorites]

I feel he developed dementia because he wanted to forget his troubles.

There is evidence that years of pessimism and negativity slightly increases the odds of dementia - but plenty of happy, financially stable people develop it as well, there are a lot of factors combining that neither you or your dad could control.

Aside from you not causing his dementia - you might have triggered an intervention that saved his life. He's better off sectioned for his own health by a doctor than in jail because he attacked the neighbor with a brick while hallucinating.
posted by bashing rocks together at 1:22 AM on January 25, 2021 [35 favorites]

You did the right thing. Dementia is not something you choose. And they tried to not detain him - you wrote he refused home care. Dementia can’t be reversed but there are some medications that can help and like was said above this is far better than being in jail. I’m sorry you’re having to go through this. I think you did the right thing.
posted by kerf at 1:34 AM on January 25, 2021 [3 favorites]

If you don't have any videos of you and your father together, make a few while you still have time.
posted by Beholder at 2:26 AM on January 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

If there's any information you could share with the mods about your geographic location, maybe someone could make specific support suggestions for you?

I'm so sorry you're going through this, and want to echo that you didn't cause this by not paying his bills or preventing any sources of conflict from appearing in his life. I hope your local services can help you come up with a good plan for managing your dad's needs safely going forward, especially if there's a diagnosis to come that may need specialised care.

If you have access to any counselling (through the hospital, health services, insurance if you have it), I think it would give you somewhere to process the torrent of thoughts you're working through - talking through it out loud with a trained listener does more than you would imagine. I would suggest this is worthwhile even if it's not a long-term arrangement, but you might consider an ongoing situation too, because your family's history and your dad's future sounds like a huge amount to handle.
posted by carbide at 2:35 AM on January 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

nth-ing: You did not cause this.

Dementia happens to all sorts of people in all sorts of circumstances. It can come on quickly or slowly, with or without any apparent trigger. A lot of the causes of dementia are still not well-understood but from what I've read, the likelihood that you could have prevented it is very low.

Also, dementia can be easy to miss in the early stages. People sometimes work hard to hide it because they're afraid and/or they see it as a personal failure. It's quite possible his mental health was already declining well before your argument and he was hiding it due to fear or denial. (I'm pretty sure at least one of my grandparents did this.)

Dementia is incredibly difficult both for the person who has it and for the people around them. Children whose parents develop dementia have an especially hard time, because both parent and child need to adapt to the role reversal. It sounds like you're beating yourself up for not making that shift faster but honestly... it sounds like you have made that shift, and very quickly compared to some people in your situation. At this point, probably the best thing you can do is recognize that you did offer help, acknowledge that you can't change what has already happened, and focus on next steps as much as possible.

You're right that this is really, really tough for your dad. It sounds like your dad is lashing out at you because it's easier than admitting anything is wrong with himself. Know that if/when he blames you for things, there's a high probability that what he's saying is not rational.

bashing rocks together is absolutely right, too, that you got him medical help at a time when he desperately needs it but either doesn't know it or is very invested in denying it. Diagnosis and appropriate care (and possibly medication) can probably dramatically improve his quality of life - not to mention yours and your mother's. This isn't going to be an easy path for him, but it sounds like it may be the best one available right now.

Dementia is really difficult, and probably one of the best things for it is big helpings of compassion, which includes lots of self-compassion.

Things you might do for yourself (besides therapy/counseling, of course):

- Find a support group. After both my grandmothers developed Alzheimers, my mom helped start a local support group for families of people with dementia that has been a huge help for her and for others. Maybe see if there's something like that near you? Assisted living / memory care facilities may host these. Here's one online forum version. It might be worthwhile and validating to talk to other people who are in similar situations.

- You might check with the Alzheimer's Association. Even if your dad doesn't have Alz, they do provide support & resources for dementia generally. Maybe try the resources section of their website or contact your local chapter.

- If "doing something" about a problem helps you move on, maybe read up on communication strategies for talking to people with dementia, or on powers of attorney and other legalities.

- Try some of these strategies for completing the physiological "stress cycle."

- Take care of yourself. Practice self-compassion, get exercise and food and sleep, talk/vent to people outside your family. There are two reasons you should be practicing good self-care: First, because you deserve it. Second (I list this because I know that doing something just for yourself can feel selfish even if you know you deserve it), because your dad is going to need your help (even if he hates to accept it) and he'll need you at your best. So make time each day to set aside everything related to your dad and take good care of yourself in whatever ways you can.
posted by sibilatorix at 3:05 AM on January 25, 2021 [10 favorites]

You said you need tools. Here are some from a previous thread.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:42 AM on January 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Maybe it helps to know that it's really, really normal for other folks' mental health issues to feel destabilising like this - even when it's just someone you happen to spend time with, never mind someone you're close to or who's part of your family or who you have some level of responsibility for. You're going to feel wobbly for a bit, that's expected.

A first step is to try and make sure you're eating, showering, exercising, resting on a regular schedule. If you're struggling with that and it all just seems a bit much, now's a time to pull in a favour from anyone you know who's less close to the situation and might be able to help you keep this stuff on a track a bit.

It's also a good time to look at your other commitments and consider explicitly pulling back from any random things you're feeling obligated to do but which can be put aside for a while. Maybe you have volunteer commitments, or you're doing more than the bare minimum at your job, or you have kids at home who haven't figured out how to do their own laundry yet. It's fine to prioritise your dad and yourself right now.

If you're watching any TV series that involve anything even remotely emotionally intense (action/crime/thriller/etc), maybe put them down for a bit and stick with Bake Off or something else extremely non challenging. You've got enough of your own emotions right now so you don't need to be adding in any more from the TV.

If your brain is spinning out on something, it can help to do something semi-mindless like knitting or a very simple phone game. Some people find that playing very loud music helps. Not a permanent fix, but it can give you a break from angsty stuff that's on repeat in your head. Another trick is to run through the alphabet, and think VERY LOUDLY, using as many senses as possible, about something beginning with each letter. When you catch yourself getting distracted by angst-on-a-loop, just bring yourself back to the alphabet and start focusing on stroking a smelly dog or tickling a noisy elephant or whatever. This can work well if you're struggling to sleep.

Forgive yourself for not performing 100% at this time. You won't, any more than you would if you broke your leg. If you go and visit your dad, plan in advance for the fact that you'll probably be feeling more wobbly afterwards.
posted by quacks like a duck at 4:50 AM on January 25, 2021 [7 favorites]

First off, you don't know that he's got dementia. Dementia is usually insidious, not sudden paranoia.

I think you should follow up with the doctors. What do they think is causing his paranoia and delusions? Have they tested for a range of infections? Has he had imaging to rule out physical brain issues? Is he vitamin-deficient? Do they think he has a particular mental illness? Don't let them fob you off with half-answers. Doctors don't always do a good work-up on elderly patients - some of them have an "oh. old people are all demented a little bit" attitude, as I know from family experience.

Second, my family had to put an elderly relative in the hospital during a dangerous delusional episode. It was wrenching, she didn't want to go but it was the right thing to do and she recovered with rest and treatment. Rest and medication were what my relative needed, and she was not going to get them unless she was in a supervised, secure setting. The actual part of getting her to the hospital and having her committed on a three-day hold was horrible and I hate to think of it, but she recovered and got to do many of the things she loved again.

This is not your fault. It's not your dad's fault. It's an illness of some kind - either an organic illness like a hidden infection, a physical issue with the brain or, as with my relative, a mental illness that had been well-managed for many, many years but resurged due to worry and sleeplessness. It is very unlikely, even if you had full knowledge of his illness, that you could have prevented this episode.

The hospital is probably the best place for your dad right now, especially if he has family advocating for him. You did the right thing.
posted by Frowner at 5:01 AM on January 25, 2021 [13 favorites]

There are many, many things that could be the trouble here, and not ONE of them is something you could have caused, dear heart. You did not make this happen to your father. You did not respond unreasonably. It's not your fault.

Your words suggest that you've been at odds with him for many years, and there may be some built-up guilt/shame around that, colliding with the compassion you feel for him because you are clearly a kind and decent human being. Please take care of you, as several posters upthread have suggested. Should you pick a therapist, perhaps choose one with expertise in imperfect family dynamics, and a background in grief counseling wouldn't go amiss either, because I think you may be starting to mourn a parent-child relationship you didn't ever have.

Wishing you the best. You don't deserve this; no one does.
posted by humbug at 5:38 AM on January 25, 2021 [7 favorites]

His mental health has since deteriorated and I blame myself completely. I should have listened. I should have offered to help again. Instead we argued. I argued with an old man. Who does that? He has since deteriorated quite rapidly.

This is not your fault. Your dad had a mental health crisis and it sounds as if he was a danger to himself and others. It is absolutely 100% Not Your Fault.

If you're able to access an online therapist, you might find it helpful to talk through your feelings of guilt and explore ways of coping with the situation.

Sending you a big virtual hug.
posted by essexjan at 5:47 AM on January 25, 2021 [3 favorites]

Coming here to add you did not cause this! They will assuredly test for a UTI which is an extremely common cause of confusion in older people and an easy fix. I wouldn't be surprised if it's that or some other physical cause given the abruptness of really off behavior you describe. Regardless, getting a full medical work-up is the first step to figuring out what's going on and how to help. And definitely seek out support for yourself!
posted by leslies at 6:32 AM on January 25, 2021 [10 favorites]

You might look into the term “ambiguous loss” as it relates to dementia and Alzheimer’s. This is the grief around “losing” some or all of a person while they still remain. There is a website with several books on the topic from the psychologist who coined the term. I haven’t read them but you may find one that could help. Link.

You don’t say much about your mother. You live at home with her as well? Perhaps you and she can do more to actively support each other. And if your father has debts and wasn’t paying the bills that she or you thought he was paying, there’s plenty there to look into to help your mother. Consider finding community resources for the aging and look for legal resources to find out what might need to be handled if there is unpaid debts. If someone is incompetent then there may be remedies to handle this burden. Updating mods with your location would be helpful. I’m sorry this has happened to you and your family. You are not alone in having experienced this scenario! And it is not your fault.
posted by amanda at 6:34 AM on January 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

Was he definitely given a brain scan? Because the speed with which this came on sounds more in line with a physical cause than just general decline.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:59 AM on January 25, 2021

Since you refer to him as being sectioned, it sounds like you might be in the U.K.? If he's been diagnosed with or if they suspect dementia, I highly recommend taking a look at these resources from Alzheimer's Society.

The biggest thing to do is to let yourself off the hook for "causing" your dad's situation. Like everyone else has said, it's very unlikely he brought this on himself and even less likely you yourself could have done anything to prevent it or to hasten this decline. It's really common for small signs of dementia to be overlooked, especially if the person has always had traits like being bad with finances, being paranoid, not generally making logical decisions. If you can get into a support group for carers, I think it will help you a lot with this.

I would also recommend you get in touch with the folks who are caring for your dad now, to start figuring out a plan for when he's either released to you or moved to a care home. I'm in the U.S. but a friend in the U.K. who had experience with someone being sectioned was really shocked with the abrupt way the person was returned to their home, with no notice to my friend.

I really wish you the best in this, regardless of what the underlying cause of your dad's behavior is this is a really tough thing to be dealing with and the guilt can be very insidious. Please give yourself a break the best you can, this is not your fault.
posted by assenav at 11:04 AM on January 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

I read once that we blame ourselves for terrible events because we want to feel some degree of control (even if that retrospective “control” can only manifest as guilt). But speaking as the child of a person who was mentally ill, and the grandchild of a person whose dementia sounded a bit like your dad’s, this is 100 percent not your doing.

It’s agonizing to have the people we love confused and lonely and scared like that. It’s really hard when they can’t recognize us and let us help. I’m so sorry that you’re all going through this.

Please reach out to your close friends/family/therapist for support right now. The doctors are handling the medical part for the moment. Now is the time for you to do things that support you, and make you and your household strong for whatever is next to come.

My heart goes out to you
posted by hungrytiger at 11:12 AM on January 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

Also, in case you meant it literally about needing tools, here's some tools you might try to settle down:

Free Headspace meditations: Relieving Stress, Walking at Home, and Panicking

Free hypnosis/guided meditation: Keep Calm and Carry On

Meditation classes on Insight Timer (requires subscription, I think $10 USD/mo): Protect Your Body from Daily Stress, Walking the Buddha's Path in a time of Crisis (looks like a pretty secular form of Buddhism)

NAMI downloadable manual: Navigating a Mental Health Crisis

NAMI 24/7 crisis text line: here

I also strongly recommend calling in your friends/therapist, doing things that ground you in your body (like exercising or a hot bath), and taking some "time out" with distractions like non-scary movies.
posted by hungrytiger at 11:40 AM on January 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Mod note: From the OP:
I just wanted to say thank you so much to everyone who responded. I have read every word. I am feeling a million emotions at once and i'm not sure what all of those feelings are. I have never grieved before nor been consumed with so much guilt. I'm not reacting the way I thought I would.

Someone mentioned that I might be mourning a parent-child relationship I never had with my dad and I think that is true. It's like the floodgates just opened and I am overwhelmed with love, empathy and fear for him that I could not connect with or want to connect with prior partly due to overwhelm, partly due to our difficult relationship. I feel guilt with that too. One minute I am carrying on with life as normal and then I remember what is happening and I can't make the two things work together or make sense.

My mum is in her late 70s and is coping astonishingly well. She has seen her grandparents and parents pass as well as people she worked for. She is more used to this sort of thing and more 'steady' than me which is a bit embarrassing. I don't want to offload any worries or anything onto her.

I have paid off all of his debts which sort of upsets me more because I could have taken that entire weight off his shoulders in a second but did not. I am looking into whether my mum or I can gain lasting power of attorney.

I'm going to visit him in hospital with some clothes and toiletries tomorrow but I doubt they will allow me in due to COVID. I appreciate that I will feel weird when I do. Hopefully I can take it. I wish I could give him something comforting but he doesn't have anything like that so I will just write him a message from me and my mother and put it in the bag if they will allow it.

Thanks for the tip about doctors' behaviour with elderly people. He has has physical checks and they have ruled out any physical issues. They did an initial quick memory test which apparently he aced however in the mental health ward he was saying things that made him sound paranoid. He has since been moved to a different hospital as they have now found him a bed but I had to ring around to find that out. The first hospital communicated with us frequently which was really reassuring but this hospital hasn't. I still don't know what he has but he has only just arrived there. I understand they are busy with COVID so i'll bear that in mind and be patient.

I am based in London, UK btw. My throwaway email address is if anyone has any therapist recommendations or anything they want to send my way. I think therapy needs to be part of my life for a while now. We are in lockdown here which makes it trickier as walking around the shops etc. usually helps clear my head. I might go for long walks anyway.

Thank you for the links and advice. I appreciate your warmth and kindness. This is a kind community. You have no idea how much it means.
Thank you.x
posted by loup (staff) at 1:05 PM on January 25, 2021 [10 favorites]

> I argued with an old man. Who does that?

My father has dementia. I argue with him, when I get caught up in trying to get him to do or not do something and forget that arguing (mostly) doesn't work. Friends with parents with dementia say the same, sometimes in the same words as you have. You didn't even know he had dementia when you were arguing with him - and it sounds as if there is no diagnosis yet? Agree that it could be a UTI.

This stuff is really difficult and there is no right or easy way to do it. You are still in the eye of the storm without a clear path for his treatment or care, so it's not surprising you feel so confused and awful.

Re taking something in that is comforting - my father likes textures, and I think this is fairly common in people with dementia. At some point, doesn't have to be now, you might want to look in to twiddletoys or twiddlemuffs (I hate the names, but they are basically things with interesting textures people can fiddle with to relieve stress).

There are also a couple of books about coping with dementia when you also have a difficult relationship with the parent. I don't want to throw book recommendations at you at this stage, but it's not an uncommon problem and you might find help in other people's stories.

Look after yourself - you are welcome to MeMail me if you would like to talk to someone with UK experience of dementia. And I'm sorry he told you things were better before you were born - that is horrible. It sounds as if he is fortunate to have your support.
posted by paduasoy at 1:43 PM on January 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

re: taking him something comforting: There's been some work done with music for people who have much later-stage dementia than your dad. I think it's similar to the twiddlemuffs - stimulate different senses to activate different parts of the brain. If there's a way for you to bring him some music that he really connects with, that might be soothing/grounding for him.
posted by sibilatorix at 7:18 PM on January 25, 2021

Small thing that might help a little- ask the hospital to check him for a urinary tract infection (UTI). They cause a lot of discomfort that dementia patients can't articulate, and contribute to dementia-flareups (delirium and paranoia). But they are extremely easy to cure. The hospital may brush off this request but it is very reasonable so keep nudging til you get the test results.

And going forward, any time his behaviour takes a sudden decline, get them to test again. Old men's bladders don't drain well, so they get frequent UTIs (like within days of one being "cured" it can come back, especially once they're using incontinence diapers) and these easy-to-cure infections REALLY exacerbate dementia behaviour in weird ways, causing aggression and confusion and running away and all kinds of difficult behaviours.

You definitely didn't cause his dementia. While taking time to care for him, please look into supports for yourself, too- that is distorted thinking that shows you're under a lot of pressure and having a hard time. Totally understandable- the decline of a parent is horrible. But you're not the first person to experience this and you wull be ok. Sending good vibes!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 8:30 PM on January 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

I might add to above that if his memory may be declining, in the next couple of weeks is a good time to make sure he has a will, a power of attorney, and a medical power of attorney documented. If you wait on doing this till later, his mental state may not be as good and he may not have the mental capacity for these to be legally binding. Also talk with him about his wishes for end of life medical care, so that you know what he would want in the worst case scenario. I hope that his cognition improves and these don't end up mattering, but much better to have them than not.
posted by quercus23 at 1:34 PM on January 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

I found "Loving What Is" to be very helpful to me to cope and be present with my parent who had FT dementia for over a decade before she died.
posted by Salamandrous at 10:17 AM on January 28, 2021

« Older Preferred name is unknown; polite way to use...   |   Quote about sexism and musicians in the 1970s? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.