Magician's Hat

No Magic Answer

Tracey Columns

Dear Tracey,

My sister and I are in a terrible situation. Our mother is 90 and lives alone in another state. She is failing and absolutely refuses any help. We set up things like Meals-on Wheels. She canceled. We hired help, with her sitting in the room. She canceled. Her regular doctor told her to get support. She tells me “he’s over-reacting.”

My mom does pay her bills and keeps groceries in the house. She will take Dial-a-Ride to her friends, her house is pretty clean. But she is so frail, something bad is going to happen.

During my last visit, I took her to the emergency room to be treated for a bad cold. (It sounded like pneumonia to me.) She fought me every step of the way – she’s always had a bad temper. When they said it was a virus and only ordered over-the-counter products, I didn’t hear the end of it!

However, the doctor, nurse, and a hospital social worker all told her she needed to arrange in-home care or move into an assisted living facility. I was hoping she’d listen to these professionals. But no. As soon as we were in the car, she scoffed at their advice, saying they “just didn’t understand” how well she managed. I disagreed with her and she didn’t talk to me until the next day. This is typical.

We have no idea how to take care of her when she refuses to be taken care of. 

Loving but frustrated daughters

Dear Readers,

Sadly, your situation is far too common. I frequently hear from loving children who are at wits end because their parents are refusing to take care of themselves.

It sounds like you have tried every avenue – from support services to hiring in-home care. Two doctors have weighed in, as well as a nurse and social worker, all to no avail. Yes, this is a frustrating and frightening situation.

Have the two of you sat down together and actually confronted your mother head on? Perhaps because of your mother’s temper you’ve avoided this route. But presenting an absolutely united front and refusing to back down can prove to be worthwhile. You may just have to go head-to-head with her to get what you want.  

Beyond this — I hate to disappoint you and your sister — I don’t have a magic answer. From your description, your mother doesn’t begin to qualify for a legal guardianship. It also doesn’t sound like there is good cause to contact her county’s Department of Human Services for a “well being check.” 

So what do you do? Make sure her home is safe, install grab bars, remove throw rugs, etc. Try to get your mother to at least wear a personal alarm device. (Don’t hold your breath! Many Seniors refuse this basic safety device.) Hopefully, your mother will allow you to be on her bank accounts? If appropriate, contact her neighbors. Give them your phone numbers and ask them to keep an eye out for anything worrisome. 

Then, as awful as this sounds, wait for the next crisis. I know this feels absolutely heartless; it’s contrary to everything loving children want to do when it comes to taking care of their parents. But as long as your mother isn’t endangering herself or others, she gets to make her own choices. 

I suggest that the two of you explain this approach (in writing) to your mother. Let her know that you, as well as others, see the ‘reality’ of her situation, which she refuses to acknowledge. Add that while you are trying to understand her choices, in truth, you are resigned to waiting until something happens that forces her to make changes. Remind her that it is far easier to make small changes now under these circumstances, rather than later, when she is in crisis. 

I’m so sorry to leave you without a more satisfying plan. I know you are starving for answers. 

I hope your letter serves as a reminder to others that the time to begin planning with aging parents is now.

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