Looking for ideas, re: blind, depressed, aging mother

A little backstory. My mother is 78 years old, has lost her vision over the past four or five years, and is now (quite understandably) depressed. Depressed to the point where she spends the majority of her time sleeping or sitting around doing nothing.
She’s also in the early/mid stages of probable dementia, so anything she wants to do is soon forgotten, any shows she normally would enjoy are ignored, the books on tape gathering virtual dust.

I’ve been encouraging her to get psychiatric assistance, which she is reluctant to do. My father, who has been her husband for 55 years, and is now her primary caregiver, wants her to be tested by a neuropsychiatrist. I am a HUGE supporter of this, as I work in Mental Healthcare. He is waiting to take her to the hospital where she has been going for everything, stating “ease of care.” It looks like another 6-8 months before she can get in. I can find her someone in the company I work for within the next month. Someone 20 miles away before the end of the year. But no, he wants her to go to UNC.

To test for depression, not dementia. But…that’s a topic for the pit.

On to the meat of the problem. My wife and I love mom very much, and it’s very upsetting to see her like this. More upsetting for her to have to live like this. So I have to ask for ideas. Please: may I have suggestions of things that might bring her out of herself? The things she loved doing were cooking, knitting and needlework, and reading. I’m wracking my brain trying to come up with new things she might enjoy, or at least be willing to try, that are not made impossible by her limitations, and I’ve come up dry.

So I turn to you, august Dopers, as a resource of immeasurable experience and value.


I have had some limited exposure to people with dementia and I believe it’s generally the case that events from the deep past can be well remembered, while recent events disappear. What about books on “tape” of works she loved as a younger woman? Or music she danced to with your dad decades ago? Maybe that would engage her more?
But if she is blind and “forgetful” your dad will have to assist with this.

What about just going on walks with her (holding her hand)? Physical activity can help counter depression. Would she enjoy hearing you describe what’s going on in the world? “A huge icicle on the Smiths’ roof…looks like Janet has a new car…”

Visit often. Why not ask her? Depression is a demon. If she’s starting down the rabbit hole of dementia, I am sorry. That’s even a worse demon. There are new meds for Alzheimer’s that have some promise of slowing it down. When my MIL was in dementia and losing her sight we finally got it. It was fear that paralyzed her. It took some doing but we tried to get her out everyday, on a simple walk about. She got more brave and less fearful doing this. She had no mobility issues. I could see doing it with a wheelchair bound person, too.
Goodluck. And you and Dad need to be together on her treatment. It can only help.

Does she have any pets? Dogs, cats?

Sorry to hear of your situation, and good on you for wanting to help. I’ve often heard that music reaches many otherwise unreachable people. Especially music from a younger, happier age.

My Yaya was one of those old people whose depression could look like dementia. She didn’t have memory problems, but when she was busy mulling her bad situation she didn’t hear a thing we said, so of course she didn’t remember it.

You mention that books on tape didn’t work; I know that a symptom of depression is difficulty concentrating, which makes reading or listening to anyting long(ish) feel tiresome rather than attractive. With Yaya, things that worked involved getting her to interact with other people (and she’d been as close to a hermit as she could for all of her life): how hard is it to get your mom out of the house? Even if she can’t see the colors in the leaves any more, walking around and talking about the stuff going on “now” may do her good.

Not easy seeing our parents health decline. After having one’s sight for all of those years, seems normal to me to be depressed if you’ve went blind. I’d be very depressed! Nobody wants to be that dependent on another for the most basic needs.

I liked TSBG’s suggestions such as music she likes, and taking her on walks while holding her hand, especially on nice days. Talking about anything and everything to her, and serving her good food, her favorties, made to her heart’s delight. Having good company is important, hopefully she can still find things to laugh about. Glad she still has her husband, and you and your wife are supportive.

My dad has severe dementia, and is 100% totally dependent on us. I’ve heard there are over 40 types of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Having that too, is another reason I would think depression would be a normal reaction to hearing of that news.

My dad generally only has a few seconds of short-term memory for most things. I’m so thankful that he still has his sense of humor though. There isn’t a day that doesn’t go by, sometimes, hardly an hour, that I can’t find someway to get him laughing. He loves being teased, and teasing us. We physically play fight a lot. Despite a great deal that comes out of his mouth is gibberish, we find ways to talk to him, ask him if he remembers this or that, and trying to bring up some fond memories that he used to tell. Surprisingly, quite a bit of his old memories are still somewhat there, he’s just not able to tell them, so we tell them for him, and it brings him plenty of joy reliving it all. The best thing about his piss-poor memory, is, I can tell the same stories over and over, and not have to get new material. It’s just as funny to him, as if he is hearing it for the very first time. And for him, it is.

I hope you’ll realize how important it’s going to be for your dad to keep taking care of himself too, and for someone to give him some breaks. Maybe her dementia (if she has that) is not at that stage, but taking care of somebody that is totally dependent on you, is extremely exhausting. I switch out with my brother every other month, dad adopts to it well, and it gives us both a chance to catch back up on some of our work. Without having that break, I’d rather not speculate on what would have became of us.

May I ask what brought on her blindness?

I believe smell is considered one of the most evocative of the senses to trigger memories. Perhaps you could put together an “album” of scents, and get her to tell you the stories that she associates with that smell. Your Dad might be able to help with this. Silly childhood things like maybe… chalk, playdoh, grape juice, dry leaves. Anything! Also, maybe rubbing her hands with lotion, or getting her a foot massage. Stuff that makes her feel good.

Good luck! I know it’s so hard to see your parents age, and health decline. I lost my Dad two years ago at age 92.

Find ways that she can serve others.

For example, she should be able to knit by touch. Have a fellow volunteer cast on for her and later bind off for her. Get her soft, lovely yarn and she can easily knit basic garter stitch scarves or shawls for a women’s shelter or cancer comfort ministry. (Note - what she produces may not actually end up being perfect - I worked with one elderly woman who would forget what she was doing, unravel her yarn, and unknowingly knit and re-knit the same few inches of scarf - but her self-concept improved because she was doing something “useful”.)

If she is a religious person, remind her of the power of prayer. Our elderly church members who can no longer help physically are re-energized when they tap into the power of prayer - changing the world on their “knees” rather than through actions or protests.

My mother ha she benefitted greatly from audiobooks and an Amazon Echo with the Echo Connect phone connection. She can’t see to dial but can do voice dialing to call friends and family. She has enough vision to use an iPad to checkout library audiobooks but if she needed to, she could use her Echo as well. She also plays music and many word games on her Echo, keeps up on news etc.

It’s hard when you have to start taking care of your own parents. What type of relationship do you have with your dad? It sounds like you and he are not on the same page about where/when your mother’s care should take place. Do you have siblings? Do you have a plan for power of attorney, medical power of attorney?

Is there any chance your dad would be willing to let you take your mom to your place of work for assessment and preliminary care with the agreement that she would transfer to UNC when that option became available? With that plan, she gets the benefit of rapidity of care, and he gets the option of having all of their care in one place as soon as it’s feasible.

I would see if she would maybe be able to knit again by feel. I crochet and I can do simple to medium complexity stuff entirely by feel. There is also something really nice about touching nice, soft things and finishing projects.

I would also see about engaging her other senses. Music is good but maybe try going shopping with her to smell different perfumes or touch clothing or anything to help her feel a bit less isolated. Make sure she’s getting some sunlight and fresh air.

But, most of all, keep on the path of getting the assessment done. It is much easier to deal with problems when you know what they actually are.

Recordings of nature, especially birdsong; old radio shows

Studies have shown that listening to familiar music can be a boon to the depressed. Get an MP3 player load it up with songs from her youth/life, hook it up to a speaker and put it on shuffle.
The memories this will likely dredge up will also help with the dementia. Get your father’s help picking the songs.