Dear Family Advisor

I need to rescue my grandmother!

Last updated: Jul 14, 2008

My grandmother's son has guardianship over her and has placed her in a substandard nursing home in Indiana. He claims he placed her there to teach her a lesson, so that maybe she will do what he says. She’s miserable and wants to go home. My grandmother feeds herself and isn't disabled. Yes, she forgets things sometimes, but who doesn't? I don't want my grandmother there and I'm willing to go and get her to live with me in Las Vegas. Is there anything I can do?

Yes, there are a couple of different approaches you can try. I would recommend doing them in tandem. While you do, stay focused on what's most important: making sure your grandmother receives good care, whether that's achieved by her living with you or living in a better residential facility.

The ideal outcome for you is that her son has a change of heart and agrees to allow you to care for your grandmother. If you haven't tried talking to him about this, you need to. No one should be put in a nursing home to be "taught a lesson," and hopefully this is something he said in a fit of frustration and doesn't really mean. If he's had time to think better of it, he may be open to your suggestion.

There's always the possibility that if money is involved, he may want to hold onto his "vested interest," and he may consider you a threat. You need to reassure him that you simply want to help care for your grandmother's physical and emotional needs. Tell him you believe that, ideally, home care is a better alternative than nursing home care. He may agree with you on that, even if he can't or doesn't want to be a home caregiver himself.

If he's bored or fed up with care giving and doesn't feel threatened by you, he may welcome your help. That's why you need to show him how much you care. Visit your grandmother whenever you can. Document her care. Take pictures. Do some research and see if any charges have been brought against this particular facility.

At the same time, be clear about what you're asking for. Moving your grandmother to Las Vegas and bringing her into your home is a major life change for both of you. Consider the financial and lifestyle ramifications of becoming a caregiver. I'm not trying to discourage you -- I was a family caregiver and I highly recommend it. Although the stresses of care giving at home are great, so are the benefits. But first you should think it through thoroughly.

Are you married and/or do you have children? Talk to the others in your household now. Ask them how they feel about your grandmother moving in. People are more willing to pitch in and help out if they feel that they were part of the decision. Are you working? Will you need to plan for adult daycare? Check on the resources available in your area.

Read as much as you can about the ins and outs of daily care giving, so you'll be prepared both physically and emotionally. For example, moving is stressful for an elderly person, so you should expect to see a decline in her memory at first. Also, your grandmother's health and mental condition will change over time, and your care giving will need to adjust with it. If she's forgetful now, you must consider the possibility that she may eventually have Alzheimer's or some other form of dementia that could make it impossible for you to continue to care for her.

Any change in guardianship requires legal action. If her son doesn't agree to the changes you suggest and you decide to contest his guardianship, expect a substantial time investment. You'll need to prove negligence, substandard care in the nursing home (your research will come in handy), and anything else that substantiates your case. It may be something you can do on your own, and the courts typically appoint an attorney for the ward -- in this case, your grandmother. State laws vary, however, so check those in Indiana.

Your love and concern for your grandmother are clear. If you do become her caregiver and enter care giving prepared, it can be a wonderful experience and a time you'll always hold dear. If your grandmother's son won't let her move in with you or you decide against it, you can still work to get her into a better place, perhaps one near you.