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Agitiation and confusion in recently diagnosed mother

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My almost 80 year old mother is recently diagnosed and living in Modesto. I am across the country in NJ and I am the only child. She lives with my stepfather, who is almost 90 and a friend has been in her home helping to care for her in the week since she's gotten out of the hospital, diagnosed with 3B/IV NSCLC adenocarcinoma with no brain or bone mets, but in both lungs and lymph node involvement.  My mother was wonderful and upbeat while in the hospital (almost 10 days, went in for what she thought was pneumonia and was discovered to be cancer).  She was eventually weaned off of high flow oxygen and certainly sounded well enough to go home.  She has no other illness and has never been on any meds before (still works fulltime). She is not a frail person and quit smoking when she was pregnant with me (and I am almost 52).

Since returning home to the care of her friend and husband, she was okay the first few days, and then seemed to decline markedly. More confusion, wondering who I was or repeating what she had just said. I was on the phone with the oncologist when she was in the office and she definitely appeared to understand everything that he said (Friday) but after that she seems to be rushing me off of the phone, and more confused. Sunday, they finally took her to ER because of marked confusion and ER just said she was dehydrated, gave her a few IVs and sent her home. I have subsequently asked her nurse navigator to check her records from the ER visit and there were no other issues.

This morning they called the visiting nurse who told them to call the ambulance. My mother had disconnected her oxygen, wasn't letting anyone in the room, wouldn't take meds, eat or drink. Totally delirious and paranoid apparently. She is there now.  I am arriving in CA tomorrow and planning to stay a few days to try to get this all straightened out.

So my question is this: have any of you experienced this situation where someone seems fine in the hospital and then gets out with a tons of meds, oxygen, and all the rest and just declines? I wonder about the friend because neither my stepfather nor me know her (she's someone who knows my mother through business and trusts) because this is all so unexpected. When I engaged the nurse navigation at the hospital I found out that the friend had told everyone there she was the daughter (not my name, just that they were related) so I did clarify that. The friend will leave when my husband and I arrive and we will arrange for caregivers.  Is this something that I could/should expect with cancer care, rapidly cycling from up to down?

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I can't imagine how difficult it must be to be so far from her during this time.  My grandmother had SCLC and didn't experience the agitation until the end when she had confirmed brain mets.  With your mom, it could be any number of additional contributing factors, including the dehydration.  Can you take her to a different hospital tomorrow when you arrive, or at least get another opinion?

Please keep us posted.  Safe travels to you and your husband. 

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Years ago my grandmother (in her 80s) rather suddenly became confused and delusional, somewhat paranoid, refused to take meds, didn't sleep. She believed people were in the back yard "gathering things up" and demanded someone stop them, she didn't recognize the nightgown she was wearing (thought it was a shawl) and similar things. Turned out it was a reaction to a newly prescribed med (Darvon, if I recall correctly}. Is it possible that something your mom was prescribed in the hospital is causing her delirium? You might want to look up possible side effects of what she was prescribed in the hospital. Sometimes older people have unusual side effects from meds.

Hang in there, Jan. This is really a hard situation for you.

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Wow!  There is a lot going on.  

To your questions, is cancer care going to cause vast emotional swings.  I'll expand my explanation to apply to dealing with a cancer diagnosis.  Either could.  My surprise diagnosis put me in a severe depression and I was only 53.  

It took me about 2 years to admit and deal with depression. So I'd flat out ask your mom, several times over several days, if she is depressed.  I'd also ask her medical team to investigate and treat. 

My lung cancer diagnosis was frightening.  I became withdrawn, slept a great deal, and refused interpersonal interaction.  Thankfully, my wife took over as my communicator but depression was pretty far down the concern list so it wasn't addressed.  When it was, I still had cancer and treatment but felt vastly better about both circumstances.  

I hope things turn around quickly for your mom.

Stay the course.  



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It turns out that my mom was diagnosed with steroid-induced psychosis. I actually found something about this condition on this forum, going back to 2005.  It's a tough road seeing her this way but now that we know what it is they have treated by withdrawing the steroid and, a few days later, they added a small dose of anti-psychotic to try to get her back on track.  She was released from the hospital to my stepfather's care yesterday (with help at home) and hopefully within the next several days this could clear up, although it can take several weeks to fully resolve. I am not sure whether she will be able to start treating her cancer before then - I suppose that they will find out when they visit the oncologist, hopefully some time this week. 

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  • 4 weeks later...

Hi, Jan,

How are you and your mom doing? Please post an update when you can.

We are here for you!

Digital Community Manager
LUNGevity Foundation

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