Dad Has Dementia

Week 21: What About Mom?

Last updated: Jun 04, 2010


The Saturday before Memorial Day, Lee and Dad and I made a pilgrimage to the national cemetery, where both Lee's parents and his brother are buried. We laid flowers at their graves and spent some time mourning them and celebrating their lives.

The next day, I found time to call my mom. I haven't written much about Mom because my focus has been on Dad. However, my mom is alive and living in the family home in another state.

Last September, after Dad's dementia was diagnosed, the situation quickly became too much for Mom to handle. Not only was Dad hostile and aggressive towards her, but Mom also deals with her own challenge: She has schizophrenia.

Despite this, Mom for years ran the household and coordinated Dad's increasing number of medical appointments and prescription medications. She navigated the health insurance maze and helped manage their retirement accounts.

Mom functions at a higher level with her illness than many others function without such a handicap.

Nonetheless, Mom's behavior cannot be described as "normal." And so it was, when I called her on Sunday, that before she even said hello to me, she blurted out, "How soon will your dad be going into a nursing home?"

She asked this for one reason and one reason only: She's worried about money.

As soon as Dad goes into a nursing home, the facility will get almost all my parents' cash before Dad ultimately is forced to go on Medicaid. This will leave Mom nearly bankrupt. Naturally, this is an upsetting thought for someone who has worked hard her entire life and amassed a significant retirement fund "“ but not enough to pay cash for her husband's nursing home care for untold years.

And so, I try to reassure her. Part of the reason Lee and I invited Dad to live with us was to avoid the expense of a nursing home. We'll do our best to keep him at home as long as possible.

The problem is that Mom is aging, too. She recently turned 76. Her antipsychotic medications have terrible physical side effects that leave her frail and shaky. She feels she can't live alone much longer, certainly not in a two-story house with a large yard she can't possibly maintain "“ and can't afford to pay someone to care for. Besides, she's lonely.

The truth is: Mom needs to come and live with us, too. She needs me to take care of her. And that's not possible while Dad is living here, given the frigid relations between Dad and her.

Hearing Mom's anguish over the phone lit a fire under me. I'll be talking with senior editor Joseph Matthews, an expert on Medicaid and other government benefit programs, in the coming weeks to see what our options are. Surely there's a way to get both Mom and Dad the care they need without bankrupting them and forcing them onto government assistance. At least, I hope so.