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Grief from losing husband or early onset dementia?


Registered User
Aug 4, 2015
Hi guys,

My mum's husband (my stepdad) died a few years ago.

He was terribly emotionally abusive to everyone from when I was a young teen onwards and then banned my siblings and I from the house until after he died and he was also very controlling of my mother. She did see us sometimes even though we were banned from the house and would not see her at Christmas or during normal family events/celebrations like that.

I was a fairly young single mother and left on my own to cope - with no help from my mum with childcare or invites over at Christmas when my son was little.

Now he's died and I do see my mum - who is aged 69 - more I'm starting to see signs of what I suspect are early onset dementia in my mother. Perhaps it's grief, but my gut tells me it's something more - she doesn't seem right and it's less that she's forgetful it's more that she's going off into a fake version of reality.

She seems to have completely re-written our family history in her mind - now, according to her, and seemingly endless anecdotes our stepdad was this wonderfully clever, special man and for some reason (although she's only mentioned this once since he died) we all simply "weren't close" to him...:eek:

Without being glib or offensive (I apologise if anyone takes offense) this is a bit like Eva Braun regaling a room full of Jewish people about what a special man Hitler was. We all sit there side eyeing each other and shifting uncomfortably not wanting to hurt her or be mean but all going "WHAT WAS THAT ABOUT?" afterwards.

Maybe this is clinical denial and not dementia, but it's certainly not normal pretending everything has been peachy for years and expecting us to all play along and not say anything too.

She's also developed a weird attachment and obsession with her house where they lived together.

She is almost crippled with arthritis hobbles about with a hunched back clearly in agony, yet she lives in this big remote place in the middle of nowhere on her own because says she's the "guardian" of the house now the husband has died and even though it costs her an absolute fortune to run in oil, gas and electricity.

She invites random people over to stay for weekends so she feels that justifies keeping hold of the house and burning through her life savings to keep it going. For example she has invited her old cleaner from 20 years ago over to stay for weekends a couple of times recently when in fact they're not on sleepover terms they're on meet for a cup of tea for half an hour terms. And then mum spends all weekend feeding her up saying to anyone who'll listen that she was "put on this earth to look after people". (Uh, apart from her own kids and grandson???).

She throws/hosts these big lunch parties for anyone who'll attend (like my sisters' husband's brother ???) regularly and obstinately refuses to move to somewhere smaller and more manageable and I'm terrified she'll have a fall in winter when she's hobbling out to the shed to get firewood and will have a stroke and be found weeks later.

She's clearly lonely and she will invite people from the village in and give them flapjacks. :confused: I mean, she knows them, but it's not normal to feed any passer by you know - especially when you're on a pension.

She invites us over for Christmas every year and tries to guilt trip and even though we weren't welcome for years that is never mentioned/acknowledged and she almost gets bolshy/moody/ aggressive when we don't want to come and when we do go to the house there's photos of this guy who tormented and screamed and yelled abuse at us for years all over the place like a shrine even though the fact remains that this man banned us from this house for over two decades.

Another thing; She told my son that she's never going to sell that house while she's alive and wants to die there - which is all very well and good, but my sister has psychiatric problems and is the one who lives closest and my mum is acknowledging that insisting on living somewhere that doesn't suit her needs any more is only causing concern for my sister...

Is this denial down to grief/ years of emotional abuse at his hands or is her slipping off into this other reality the beginning of the end and a whole new slippery slope?

She seems happy in her own little world, for now, but there's other little odd things. Like, if I say my mobile phone's got a hot battery she copies and says hers has too, if I say it's hot weather where I am she lies and says it's the same where she is even though I'll check online and it'll be rainy. Silly white lies almost lie a teenager trying to fit in. If I say I'm doing something she says "I do that!"

Another thing: She suggested I move in with her when I was moaning about money one day - even though that would mean leaving my 2 dogs, my friends I've had for 20 years and my career behind. She said something like, "Oh i know you're quite attached to where you live but you wouldn't have to pay rent if you lived with me". --- It just wasn't a logical solution or a sane acknowledgement of having understood the problem I was talking about.

With some things she seems coherent, but with others not. I'm probably making her sound worse than she is.

She still drives and attends local Pilates classes every week and so on.

She hasn't had that one big "OH****WEHAVEAPROBLEM" defining moment where she's been driving around the village in her nightie at 3am but i don't want her to get to that stage either.

She had a son who died many years ago and several times recently she's absent-mindely referred to my grown up son by his uncle's name when talking to him and not even realised her mistake.

She's always been batty, forgetful and scatty and like I said she's grieving, I don't know, I've been scanning this forum all evening and am instinctively worried.

Both her parents suffered Alzheimers and many uncles and aunts as well so it does run in the family and she's told me before she constantly worries she has it but "would be too terrified" to go get the test.

In all honesty I just want to be aware and talk her into getting the test so she gets power of attorney papers and things sorted out now if that's where we're headed - especially given how stubborn she's become lately.

TOO LONG DIDN'T READ; Mum seems to have changed totally since her emotionally abuse husband died and I worry she's floating off into Neverland. Or is it just the grief that's making her act strange?
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Volunteer Moderator
Feb 27, 2015
Hello & welcome to TP:)

I'd go with your gut instinct that something is wrong & write to her GP detailing your concerns & ask them to check her over.


Volunteer Moderator
Jul 14, 2006
Hello and welcome to Talking Poin.

Your Mother could be inventing the past that she would have wanted and did not have. Making up the life she expected when she married your stepdad. We can all block out the bad stuff and just remember the good stuff and if there is not that much good to remember then we can make it up. Remember the pain of having your child and how once you have the baby it is all forgotten and there is just joy.

Inviting people might be because she is lonely and wants to be nice, something she could not do when your stepdad was alive. Holding on to the house because it is hers now.

Whether this is what your Mum is doing or it is early onset dementia seeing the doctor would be the right thing to get her to do. She might just need a little help but from what you say it is going to be difficult for you.

She is very lucky that you are showing concern for her and please keep posting and using the forum for advice and support.


Registered User
Mar 26, 2011
Near Southampton
Your mother could be suffering from Depression as symptoms are often similar. However, it's a good idea to get her to see her GP, maybe on the understanding that it could be helped. Thyroid problems and vitamin B12 deficiency can also show themselves similarly. Then if it is early dementia, it can be picked up. Good luck.


Registered User
Aug 4, 2015
Thanks so much

Thanks so much for your replies everyone. It's really helpful to talk/vent/get my thoughts out of my head.

I think you're all correct to a certain extent.

I think I'll go and see her for a weekend and gently have a word with her and suggest she sees a doctor, grief counsellor and investigates why she's holding on to the house and these false memories of a cruel man who emotionally abused us all so tightly. He even wrote her a letter - to be opened after his death -, which expressly said that none of her kids were to come to his funeral!!!! :(:rolleyes:

My kid's been staying with her for a few days this week and it sounds from his reporting back that every other conversation starts with her saying something about the house, why she won't ever sell it and her "passing" as she keeps calling it. She also mentioned she's throwing a 70th birthday party and made him promise he'd come. Let's not forget she's not been to ANY of HIS birthday parties over the years.

I don't like it - my feeling is she's guilt tripping him to visit more with the threat of her dying soon when he's just starting a career that involves near-constant overseas travel.

I do know with dementia selfish and unrealistic expectations on those family members who you have let down throughout your life can become even more magnified and the self focus can become almost teenage in nature. :(

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