My mother suffers from schizophrenia and has suffered most...

6 answers | Last updated: Oct 21, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother suffers from schizophrenia and has suffered most of her adult life. She has been hospitalized at least two to three times that I know of... She is very secretive about her illness so I don't have all the information. My mother has moments of clarity where is appears normal and able to function relatively well but these moments are getting less and less apparent.

I am concerned about the following:

-she gives away food, money, housewares which she desperately needs even to the point where she has nothing left to eat. When asked if she ate she always says yes but when you check the refrigerator or cupboards they are bare. She has thrown away grocery that has been given to her.

-she lives in Florida and even during the summer time will not turn on air conditioner or use a fan. she claims that the air hurts her arthritis.

-keeps the door unlocked and open all day & will let anyone enter the home. I'm really afraid for her safety

-she lives alone and won't allow any of her children to stay in the home with her even though it would help with housekeeping and help with the rent payment.

-She lives on a disability check and most of it goes to rent she has less than $50.00 left over for the entire month to eat, and pay utilities. She could apply for food stamps, or rent reduction from the government or move in to a senior facility but she refused to do so.

-has conversations with herself - I thought she was talking with another person but when I saw that she was alone I was shocked

-She is not violent and never has been - wouldn't hurt a fly

I want to meet with her doctors but she gets very upset if I mention it. I'm certain she is not telling the doctors anything so they don't know how sick she really is. I feel so helpless, angry, sad, miserable, frustrated, - how do I help my mother? Can I have her declared incompetent so that I can take over financial and medical affairs?

Expert Answers

Maria Basso Lipani writes a popular website on geriatric care topics, where she puts her expertise as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker to good use answering care planning questions. Maria is a graduate of Columbia University School of Social Work and is licensed in California and New York.

Being a caregiver for a parent with schizophrenia is especially challenging for all the reasons you shared. It can be considerably harder when that parent isn't taking medications and, based on your description of your mom, it doesn't sound to me like she is doing so.

I am in agreement with you and think that it's time to explore whether your mom would meet the criteria for having a guardian/conservator (i.e. someone to manage her financial and medical affairs). However, this usually requires a psychiatrist's evaluation and I am assuming she would be opposed. If that is correct, I would suggest the following two steps:

1)Put everything that you've shared in your question here about your mom's behavior and your concerns in writing and send it via fax to each of her doctors and keep a record. This is valuable information and they should act on it.

Many times family members feel powerless because their loved one doesn't want the communication to take place and there is much to be said for respecting those boundaries in situations where there is no risk to a person's health and/or well-being. However, in your mom's case just the opposite is true and I think that it's necessary for you to intervene. Remember that the doctor(s) may not feel comfortable sharing information with you about your mom because of the HIPAA law, but there is nothing to stop you from sharing information with them.

I would do this soon and indicate your interest in having her competency evaluated, then see what response you get. He or she may be willing to make a referral to a psychiatrist and if you're lucky, maybe even work with you on how to roll this out to your mom (i.e. perhaps the doctor would be willing to leave you out of it entirely and say that it is his/her idea for X reason). If your mom trusts this person, this may work. If you don't get a response from her doctor(s)or the response is not sufficient, I would suggest proceeding to step #2.

2) Call Adult Protective Services [APS] in your mother's home town. This can be an anonymous call if you'd like, but most important is again that you share your concerns and the behaviors you're seeing as well as her diagnosis. In some states, APS is able to send a psychiatrist to the home to evaluate competency and if she were to be declared incompetent, the agency would start the process of guardianship/conservatorship then. My fingers will be crossed that your mom's state is one of those, but you won't know until you ask.

Beyond these suggestions for your mom, I think a support group for you may be a very helpful thing to find. One thing I can promise you is that you're not the only daughter caring for a mentally ill mother; support does exist. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a great resource for this. Their web address is:

All the best.

Community Answers

Sunshine4you answered...

My youngest sister suffers from mental illness. She now has a conservator (our father) and she resides in a long term mental health facility after a year of going in and out of various mental health units. She attempted suicide 6 times last year before her social worker was able to get the court system in CA involved and she finally agreed to live in a facility where there were on-site social workers, psychiatrists, and nursing care. I haven't seen her in many weeks although I have phoned her and left several messages. I have done my best to reach out toward her. I hope your situation with your mother improves soon.

A fellow caregiver answered...

I hope you resolve this, I am going through an ordeal with my mother that's is much more escalated than I would like, beginning about 25 years ago my father institutionalized my mother, three different times, I was in my late teens then the last two times she stopped her meds after the third time she figured if she quit her meds he would send her back, he had a handle on it. my father died, my brother still lived there and I know she had episodes he just didn't tell me. Then he died, now its me. She doesn't like me, never did, this is no joke. I don't think she should have ever had kids in the first place because she cpuldnt handle it. I spent my late teenage years wanting out of that house, she was evil, the more she did strange stuff, the more rebellious I became, as I look back even as a small child, my mother was not like other parents, though she controlled it well, I knew something wasn't right, I admit I was not the best child in the world, but I never did half the stuff she accused me of, hence, that was part of her illness, I didn't know. And because of that, she hates me and will express that openly, I worry. She now looks at me wild eyed when I checked on her yesterday, she thinks me and my kids plot against her, she talks some crazy stuff, makes no sense, and she told me to get out, dropped her head in a sleepy state mumbling something, then asked me where my deceased brother was, then said something like "you act so sweet' sarcasticly, then asked who I was. She cannot stand me and seeing me makes her worse. So I'm staying away, I cannot deal with this, this isn't like one of my patients, I can handle them. But the stress of this is now causing me to have chest pains, and anxiety and I have a family and bills, I do not know what to do, two weeks ago she was fine, a little off the wall but nothing like this. I have put this in gods hands before I wind up dying on account of the stress

A fellow caregiver answered...

I have the same problem with my mother, from the two daughters with their mothers, especially the first post! She seems normal for a few months then back to the worrying, talkomg to herself and running away, she has been in and out of hospitals, programs, and even jail for walking on highways and some other things I'm not so proud of! I don't know what to do anymore ! She doesn't think she needs the meds I've tried everything! The stress is driving me insane and I can't take it ! It's taking a toll on me! I'm scared for her! I don't kno what's going to happen next! Last time she lost her apartment and. Section 8 please help! Will she ever be normal again !

A fellow caregiver answered...

My mother has always been into metaphysics, esoteric stuff. We all do in my family, but lately, she began talking to "spirits", who would tell her she's virgin Mary and mother nature... She would tell us everything "they" say to her, and although we never really believed her, we thought maybe, just maybe, some of the things she said were true. However, this has been scalating into a very odd behavior these past months... She eats little, has insomnia, she keeps laughing all day, her eyes closed and mouth wide open all the time, she has strange mannerisms, has a very childish vocabulary, often acting like a little girl... She doesn't talk to us about what she hears anymore, because she knows we don't want to hear about it, but whenever we all go out to eat at restaurants or to any social event she can't control herself and keeps laughing and talking to her "spirits". Sometimes she says interesting things about the world, which is why we were having doubts about her being sick, but after reading so many articles about schizophrenia, I think it all fits... It's really saddening... She doesn't pay attention to us anymore, she's happy in her own made-up world, and even expressed she wouldn't leave her "spirits" for us. She lost her friends, and her relatives are very concerned. She won't admit she's sick and thinks we are the ones who don't want to understand her. She thinks her mission is to save the world and now she even thinks she's pregnant, even though she lost her uterus many years ago. The more I think about it, the more I'm certain that she has schizophrenia and it hurts so much. We were a "perfect" family not too long ago, she would be very cheerful and open minded. I miss my old mom. We think it all began after she lost a child 20 years ago, because since then she became obsessed with the spiritual world, trying to find answers and shelter from her depression. My father has tried to give her everything she wanted, but she became used to not make any effort... Maybe all this freedom and idleness she had, led her to become obsessed with these things... We feel guilty and responsible for not caring enough for her, but at the same time we're still hoping, in a little place in our hearts, that what she says is actually true and she's truly a wonderful yet misunderstood incarnated spiritual being...

A fellow caregiver answered...

I have just done some reading on caring for someone with mental illness and one of the tips is not to blame yourself or feel guilty. I have a mother with schizophrenia. My father divorced her when I was 5 and I went to live with him and a step mom. I have difficulty with my emotions and it has stayed with me throughout my life. I have recently taken a Mindfullness (meditation) course and have started to develop some of my own nurturing inner voices (healthy ones!) to take the place of the parental ones I was missing. You might try some meditation or if you're not interested in that some other types of stress relief. Figuring out how to help your mom may come after. Good luck.