Am I responsible for older disabled sister's care?

3 answers | Last updated: Sep 08, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My sister is 77, almost 20 years older than me. I live 1,000 miles away and her 3 children (who she has pushed away) live in other states as well. She lives alone and no longer drives. She's been in the same town for 20+ years and has friends there. She pays for help with cleaning, grocery shopping, etc. Her health has been deteriorating steadily for the last few years, more rapidly in the last 2. She's uses a wheelchair (due to 2 bad hip replacements and degenerative bone disease). I call her frequently and have tried to encourage and arrange a better living situation. Her doctor makes house calls and is very aware of her situation, also encouraging her to move. She's on a lot of meds for pain and will not go into assisted living because she doesn't want anyone taking over her medication.

She was going to move into to a private family home (the daughter of her best friend) where they had previously taken care of an elderly friend until her passing. But because my sister would not make a commitment to the arrangement, they rented the room to another person. Now she's mad and feels betrayed. The other arrangement she was considering was with a woman in her 80's who is in just as poor health. But the woman had never agreed to the arrangement and my sister is angry about that too.

I lost my husband recently after 24 years. For 18 of those years I was also his caregiver (cancer, heart disease, COPD and diabetes). During this time I also helped my mom take care of my step-dad until his passing (stroke and cancer) and then took care of my mom until she passed from cancer. All while working full time (no choice - thanks goodness for an understanding boss).

I called this afternoon to check on her and after an hour of going over family history (for the hundredth time) she laid a huge guilt trip on me. She was hurt because I'd never "said from my heart", "why don't we move in together now we're both alone". She'd completely forgotten that I did look into houses and jobs in her town (a place I don't want to live) and there wasn't anything. She changes her mind constantly. And the thought of giving up a very good job I've had for the last 13 years is too risky. Plus, she's extremely difficult to deal with, is a very angry, hateful person and has a history of mental issues. For many years my mother did her best to help her but she'd get in a rage and leave after 3 days. Even if I did arrange for her to live with me she'd get angry about something and leave or arrange to leave after a few days. Her son calls her every few months but her daughters will have nothing to do with her.

After 18 years of care giving, full time work and not having any kind of life, to say the least I'm burned out. Right now I feel the only thing I can do is offer her some financial help and wait for her doctor to arrange for assisted living. Not sure what else I can do.

Expert Answers

As Founder and Director of Circles of Care, Ann Cason provides caregiving, consulting, and training services to individuals and public and private organizations involved in eldercare. She is the author of Circles of Care: How to Set Up Quality Home Care for Our Elders.

I think the way you can be most helpful is to continue your phone calls of encouragement and sisterly love. When your sister gives you a bad time, you should gently hang up, telling her that you care for her. Sometimes family situation become so difficult that you have to turn it over to the professionals.

If her children are unable to care for her, she should be evaluated by adult protective services who would also be in touch with her physician. If she is eligible for a care home and needs to be moved one of her grown children might be willing to move her. You could give him support and encouragement.

If you have the funds, you might want to consult with an Aging Life Care Professional IFormerly known as Professional Geriatric Care Manager) or a social worker whom her doctor would refer you to. Your sister needs help with the addiction to pain medication and soothing from the pain of what must have been a hard life.
It could be very helpful for you to communicate with the professionals that will help your sister. Caring for the caregivers who are helping her will be more effective than your doing it yourself.

Community Answers

Brenda avadian answered...


You are obviously a caregiver with a conscience. In this case, your conscience will get you into trouble.

You don’t deserve to be involved with your elder sister given the situation and family history you’ve shared.

Sometimes by sharing, we convey meaning by how we express ourselves beyond the words we say or write. What I write here is partly in response to what's between the lines of your question. There’s no space in your expression for YOU.

Why would you do this to yourself? You have a nice job, an understanding boss. Do you want to ruin this with mind trips and neediness?

You’re taking care of your own life… FINALLY.

You deserve some time to let your life unfold.

Your sister is living her life as she chooses.

What choices are you making to live YOUR LIFE?

A fellow caregiver answered...


Since my posting I’ve talked to my nephew. We both feel (as you suggested) that it’s time for the professionals to step in. It’s a difficult decision but needed for her well being.

Contrary to what she‘d told me, my nephew was aware of his mother’s situation. He’s contacted her doctor and we’ll be working together to make the changes needed for her care. Based on her declining mobility and her doctor, she will likely need to go into a nursing home in the near future. Home health, her children nor I can provide the level of care required.

Moving her is not a problem. Arrangements have been made, when the time comes. In addition, we’ve found a local advocate through the senior services in her city to assist with coordinating these changes. She is a retired nurse that actually used to work for my sister’s doctor and was highly recommended.

Thank you for your response and advice. It has been very reassuring that we are doing the right thing for my sister.


You are correct, there has been no space for ME. I am taking care of my own life now and deserve my time and to do what’s best for me.

I agree my sister is living as she chooses. After talking with my nephew and the decisions made, I no longer feel the responsibility or guilt (both self imposed) that I’ve struggled with for a long time. You can’t imagine what a difference it’s made on my day to day outlook, as well as my plans for the future.

My days are my own and I’m making choices for my life. There’s a small town with a small college I’ve wanted to move to for many years. Now I can do that and am once again excited about the future.

Thank you so much for reading between the lines and your objective view. It’s appreciated more than you know.

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