Here to help: Dealing with my mother’s dementia diagnosis

Here to help: My mother has just been told that she has early onset dementia and the diagnosis has completely floored me. She is only 65-years-old and should be looking forward to her retirement years instead of facing this. Although memory loss and withdrawal are the only noticeable signs for the moment, I am filled with the guilt that I didn’t keep tabs on whether she was looking after herself enough in recent years. She has always been the one to take care of me, especially when my husband left me last year. The idea of now having to look after her makes me sick to my stomach. What do I do when my Mum no longer recognises me and I start to lose her?

- Anonymous, Laois

Frances replies: Thank you for your email, I was very struck by all you are dealing with. I’m sure the news about your mother must have come as a great shock. The diagnosis coming so soon after another major upheaval in your life, the breakdown of your marriage, must be adding to the impact this is having on you. I would suggest that you contact a support group that might be able to help you through the imminent changes for you and your mother. They would offer a wealth of knowledge and experience.

That said, I get a sense that there is a more personal issue for you arising – the relationship with your mother. You acknowledge yourself that you are a dependent daughter. It might be worthwhile for you to explore your attachment to your mother as you both charter new territories. Therapy is a good avenue for this. You speak of feeling sick to your stomach at the prospect of not having the mother you have grown to know and depend on any longer. When we lose a loved one through death, a natural grieving process begins almost immediately, moving through several difficult, yet natural, stages. In a case like yours, where your loved one is still here physically, grief, though still present, is more complicated. What of your emotions? Where do they go? How do you negotiate them in a relationship that no longer has the natural flow of back and forth communication? The communication (and I don’t just mean words) that brought about a special intimacy you once shared is now gone. That is a big grief and it would be good to get support for that.

You do mention that it is a recent diagnosis and I am wondering if the memory loss and withdrawal are only mild at this stage. If it’s possible, keep up the communication with her, try and include her in decision making, for as long as possible.

Frances Macken (Professional Diploma in Counselling & Psychotherapy) is The Daughterhood’s resident psychotherapist and is Here To Help with all of your mother-daughter relationship dilemmas in a sympathetic and practical manner. If you have a question for Frances about your relationship with your mother, send it to