Mom can't live alone but blows off my attempts to help

Last updated: November 07, 2009

My diabetic mom is unable to take care of herself and her home, but she refuses my help. She even makes jokes about the situation or claims her feelings are hurt when I point out she needs assistance! The house is falling apart around her and poses a health and safety risk. (She has rats!) Her diet is terrible. In my last phone call with her (I live 1,000 miles away), she said she'd fallen in the tub. But she doesn't want any help.

Maybe I should let her make her own decisions, but it worries me to see how bad the situation has gotten. A couple years ago, when she needed foot surgery, I flew down and got her set up with a house cleaner, a gardener, and a handyman, but after I left she didn't follow through. She has lots of friends and strong church connections, but she has managed to hide or explain away her difficulties. I'm not sure how to proceed -- especially given that she doesn't want help or change.

Our loved ones say they don't want us to interfere, that they should be able to live life as they see fit -- but in times of emergency, they want us there. That's especially taxing on long-distance family caregivers. They can't have it both ways. We have to either cut ourselves off from our loved ones (generally not the best option), or we have to decide when and how much to involve ourselves.

I sometimes use the saying in my care talks, "Don't be afraid of your parents hating you." It's a twist on a parenting phrase that reminds us not to try to be our kid's friend. You can't let your 10-year-old drive your car no matter how big a temper tantrum he throws. Sometimes older adults' cognitive and reasoning abilities decline, or they just want their independence. But if your mom falls and breaks her hip, then most likely she'll want you to come care for her. That's six to eight weeks out of your life.

To avoid crises like that, it's time to make some tough decisions and try some new techniques.

Become proactive instead of reactive: You and your mom may not realize that your relationship has fallen into unhealthy habits. She may be manipulating you. My mom used to yell out from the other room, "I'm falling! I'm falling!" When I got in there, she was fine. I realized she was lonely and bored. I had to teach myself not to respond to every "cry wolf" scenario. To keep the exhausting, frustrating cycle from continuing, I learned to meet the needs I could and not react to non-emergencies.

Safety comes first: It's our main "job" to make sure that loved ones are safe and healthy. Your mantra should be prevention, prevention, prevention. Break your mom's situation into small areas you can seek solutions for. She may not like what you have to do, but she may grow to trust and respect you. Just keep saying, "You don't have to like me, but I have to do what's right."

Create a village: Let the pastor, neighbors, church volunteers, and close friends know what's going on. Don't harp on the negative -- simply state your mom's needs and ask for their help. I did something similar with my mom. She wanted to stay in her own home, so I created a team of neighbors, church friends, and extended family that became her lifeline. You need phone numbers and e-mail addresses, and they need yours. They can be your eyes and ears when you can't be there. Be sure to say thank you often.

Take advantage of other community resources: Don't ask your mom's friends to do things that other community resources can cover. Call a senior center or eldercare services to find out what's available. Tax and community dollars support these services, and your mom's entitled to them. This frees you and her friends to do more of the heart work -- to be that true friend and loving daughter.

Create consistent care: You mentioned that last year when your mom needed surgery, you hired a housekeeper and a gardener. Could you do that on a consistent basis? If her housekeeping poses a danger (falls, fires), regular help could be vital. If rats are a problem, hire an exterminator. Consider part-time home health care to assist her with meals and general cleanup and give you much-needed peace of mind. You may also want to look into hiring a geriatric care manager, a paid professional who can check in for you and arrange needed services.

Give up trying to change your mom: It's doubtful she's going to change, and that may be neurologically related. New research connects certain behaviors such as hoarding to OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). Has your mom had a neurological evaluation? Many "odd" behaviors are actually precursors to dementia. Even her diabetes could contribute to her behavior, especially if she's not eating right and taking her medications.

People and situations change:It's only a matter of time until you'll have to make more permanent arrangements for her care. Just when I felt like I had worked out the kinks, my mom's health declined. I knew she needed a watchful eye 24/7, and her "village" was having to do more than they should. That's why you need a short- and long-term plan.

Look at all your options: In regard to your mom's housing, your options are: hiring part-time or full-time care so she can keep living at home, living with your mom or moving her in with you, or finding an assisted-living home, a small group home, or later, if needed, a full-care nursing home or a memory disorder home that cares for those with dementia-like diseases.

I can't emphasize this enough: Do what's best for you. Make caregiving as accessible and doable as possible. Separate your mom's care from your relationship as mother and daughter. If you get snagged in the details, you might miss your last years with her. Surround yourself with people who support and listen to you, and grab every celebratory moment you can. Try not to second-guess yourself about how you manage her care. Your mom's going to be a pain at times -- but that's family. The most we can hope for is to be each other's lifeline.

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8 Comments So Far. Add Your Wisdom.

about 2 years ago

We are in need of advice. My 84 year old father in law lives alone, 300 miles away from us. He does not speak to any other family member and hasn't for over 40 years. He dislikes people in general and rarely leaves the house except to shop and hoard groceries. His house is a horrible, filthy mess. We have gone to an attorney to get power of attorney, but don't know if that went through. He is starting to show signs of dimentia and changes his mind every week about what he wants to do. We showed him lovely assisted living facilities, tried talking to him repeatedly, but he refuses to move. He now won't answer his phone and we don't know if he is dead or alive. We have the police go there regularly to check on him, but they tire of this as well. He calls the police frequently when he thinks someone drove by his house too slow or looked in his direction. He dislikes all his neighbors, so we can't call on them. We call once or twice a day, but he won't answer. We can't drive over there every week to check on him...what can we do?

over 3 years ago

My friend lives in a very religious community. You are not supposed to say things behind anyone's back. Yet, my friend, after widowhood of five yrs has been steadilly declining in self care and managing her own personal business transactions. Her Son is married with two little boys in another city. His Wife's Parents come from another country. He's not physically there most of the time. The local neighbors, some who are influenctial Rabbi Wives, have cared for my freind many times over the last years. I do over the Shabbos and Holidays when I visit her. I think the local neighbors are tired of filling in for her Son and they started a campaign of calling Her Son to get him to take her home with him to a situation that isn't even prepared to deal with Her.

over 3 years ago

Hi pawsz, Thank you very much for your comment. I'm sorry to hear about your situation, that must be very difficult for you. has a wonderful local directory where you can look for facilities and help in you parents area. ( ). Simply select the type of care you'd like to find and then your parents location. I hope that helps. Take care -- Emily | Community Manager

over 3 years ago

Who do I call about my elderly parents not being able to live alone anymore? I need names of specific places to call. I dont live nearby ad they refuse to live with me. My Dad is 84 and driving with no license, registration, and my Mom is the same age and losing her thought processes. When my mom calls someone for help they rip her off and leave without helping. Someone needs to be called, but I am not down there and dont know what to do. Please advise.

almost 5 years ago

I went through the same situation....tried for 2 years to get my Mom who has Alzheimers/dementia to get help or come live with me..,. She was adamant that she would NOT do it....Unfortunately it came down to a situation where she drove off, wrecked her car and wound up several states away in a motel. I went to retrieve her and brought her to live with me. Had to put her in a senior psychiatric evaluation program for 10 days but with the right medication she is much better. Still thinks she can live alone even though that will never again be possible. I would strongly urge you to keep trying to enlist friends, family, church members to try and convince her that she needs help. It may not work but at least you will feel a little less guilty. Also try contacting the Elder Services in the area, they can provide great information for you. Good luck, I wish I could say it's gotten easier for me but it hasn't...the only difference is that I now am living with it daily rather than from 400 miles away.

almost 5 years ago

I am 62 years old. I am a diabetic. I am on Namenda for memory. It also helps with my Diabetes. I take a lot of medicine for Chronic pain due to a back injury. This includes Ambien. My Dr. says according to my test I have a Cognitive memory loss. I forget the middle of things. It seems to be getting worse. An exemple is a Friend told me to go to the libary and get a Cd called Keeping Faith to listen to when I went on a trip. I wrote down Keeping Faith . Later I had no memory of this at all. I can not remember names of people in my quilting club that I should know, or the middle of a page in a book. I have read. I can not quilt a pattern any longer. I do not understand how to read the pattern. I can not follow instructions because I will remember the beginning but forget the middle and maybe remember the ending of the instruction. Have you heard of this type of dementia? How long before The middle forgetfullness catches up with both the front memory and back memory? Any ideas you can give me for a support group also would be appreciated. I was told I do not have alhemilhmers.

almost 5 years ago

Great answer. I think that with the safety issue, you can get your Mom a FotoDialer. It will allow her to easily call for help even if she is frazzled in an emergency. It connects into her existing analog phone. There are 24 wallet sized photos in her FotoDialer where she can just dial people/places by pressing a button next to their photograph. This is not a cure-all answer, but I think it may help her have more connection with you, more self reliance, and the ability to call for help in an emergency.

almost 5 years ago

Thank you for this insightful answer. I, too, am dealing with this type of situation. Becoming the parent is never easy, and I find responses like these helpful.

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