He won't do for himself and I just can't!

9 answers | Last updated: Oct 31, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My husband, age 79, is diabetic, controlled by diet and exercise. He also had a mild heart attack in 1991, possible stroke in July, and what looks like Alzheimer's or dementia from all I have read. Basically, he does not make whole lot of sense anymore, and wants to sit in a chair all day watching TV.

I have rearranged the living room with a chaise lounge so his legs and feet are up instead of dangling, as they are ice cold and quite swollen. He does not listen to doctors, friends, or me when we tell him he MUST walk or he's going to lose the ability to do so, plus he's impairing his own circulation to the legs and feet. He wants me to bring him everything, refusing to go get food or water, or anything. He actually looks like he's playing the martyr if I don't. I am the Go-fer. I feel like a meanie if I don't, and at the same time feel like I am enabling him to be inactive to his own destruction.

I have bone-on-bone arthritis in my left hip, necessitating me using a walker or cane, and his constant requests make me feel like I need a pogo stick so I can keep jumping up and down constantly! It hurts. And is frustrating, plus makes me feel resentful and, quite frankly, bitchy. It is hard to do numerous household tasks while dragging around a walker or cane...need hands free for housework. An RN who came from the area council for the aged a few weeks ago told us she "sees no need at this time for in-home help". Our house looks like we could apply for FEMA! Plus, I haven't told any of his family yet, as the children all (adults) live in other states...five of them by his first marriage. That marriage ended in divorce when his first wife states (to me) she was "sick and tired of doing everything" while he either worked or slept, and never interracted with anybody at all. The kids are not close to their father, as he was so distant from them emotionally.

He's still like that. Oy, vey! And yet I wonder if they may try to "take over" in some way when I do tell them he's on the decline? I don't think I could handle that after being the "other one doing it all" for the last 18 years.


Expert Answers

Mikol Davis, PhD has worked in community hospitals with geriatric patients suffering from dementia, depression, and other psychiatric problems. He has a doctorate in Psychology from the University of San Francisco and has been in private practice in Marin County, California. Davis co-founded AgingParents.com with his wife, Carolyn Rosenblatt.

Dear He won't do for himself and I just can't! Your use of the technical phrase "Oy, vey!" seems quite on target for your present situation. You say you do not want to be a martyr, well how about becoming the one helpful soul that is sacrificed. You are truly over your head in your present situation and if you do not call in your husbands adult children to help you out, you may not live as long as he does. So how do you go about asking for help? Well approach the adult-child that is the most understanding of your burden. Solicit their help to rally the troops to care for dad and you. Hire a private geriatric nurse to do a full assessment of your husbands physical, medical, and emotional needs. If he is to successfully and safely live at home in-home support will likely be needed. If your husband refuses to accept in-home support, other housing alternatives will have to be explored. And remember if you are unable to take care of yourself, you will not be of any real help to your husband. Don't wait if you want to be safe, call today.

Community Answers

Go fer to the geezer answered...

Thank you, Dr.; All of his adult children live out of state and have their own families to care for. I am going to go to the VA today though, and see what help there may be as far as some in-home help. Hiring a geriatric nurse is not possible, due to our limited funds. He is probably also at the stage of dementia where he can appear perfectly normal to outsiders, making ME look like a doofus! And I feel like one, but behind closed doors...I have actually seen him sit holding one shoe in his hand for a half hour or more, while staring into our wood burning stove or the TV. He really is "out to lunch" at times...and I'm not far behind.

Mikol davis answered...

I understand that your husbands adult children live out of town, however this is a FAMILY EMERGENCY that involves the Fathers safety. A family meeting is needed whether in person or on a conference call to determine who is willing to help NOW! On our website AgingParents.com, we have lots of free articles about how to prepare for a difficult family discussion just on this subject.

A fellow caregiver answered...

This brings back so many memories. My Dad passed away on July 2, 2008 from alzheimers. I am the youngest of 5 children-not his biological daughter, but raised as if I were by him. I am the primary caregiver for him and my mother. The time I was able to spend with him before he died was a gift from God Almighty. He lived a fairly sedimentary lifestyle as well, in fact, I joke about how they have sat around waiting to die since they were 50 years old. He was 74 when he passed. The problem is not that he does not want to help...it is that he cannot help. His brain does not get the electronic impulses that it used to that tell him how to do the everyday things. My Dad kept emmaculate records (5 star credit) for the majority of his life. Suddenly, it took 4 days to write one check to get a bill paid and many voided checks. His mind could not function anymore. We were lucky that my Mom had set them up with a long term care plan in 2004. They paid about $3000 p/yr which may seem like a lot--but now that we need it, it pays Moms rent in an assisted living facility which totals $2,500+ p/mo. We pay up front but are completely reimbursed. In-home health care for my Mom--one day p/week from 9am til 1pm--costs approx. $325 p/mo. That is just so I can get a break from caregiving. It is not easy. It is not cheap. His children have an obligation and should honor him (as stated in the Bible) by helping financially, physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc. However, they must know what is going on with him and with you. Get those communication lines open and keep them open--no matter the emotional crap you have to deal with. Caregiving has nothing to do with past mistakes, failures, heartaches, etc. It is all about giving this man a respectful, dignified end to his life. When things start to go downhill healthwise--it moves rapidly. The end is near. Cherish these bittersweet moments together with eachother and with the adult children. Let them know this may be their last chance to spend time with him. It doesn't matter what a Dad has done wrong, no matter how bad, the children still love him. My Mom regrets many of the arguments they had in the last year of their life together. She would get so frustrated with him because he would not get up out of his lazyboy chair and help her--but now, she realizes that he simply couldn't comprehend how or what to do. It is emotionally wrenching at times. It is genuinely rewarding at others. Keep your focus on loving tender moments with him and do not try to do this all by yourself. Even if no one else can help--allow God into the mix. He led us and guided us and protected us and blessed us throughout the entire ordeal. -Through the good times and the bad. Pour your heart out to his children--show them the need. Best of luck and prayers going out to you and your family members.

Go fer to the geezer answered...

Thank you so much! This answer did help, and things are beginnning to level out around here. God IS good! I think when I was feeling overwhelmed, I forgot that for a bit.
My husband is having a few good days right now, and my hip is not bothering so much.
We have found a lady who lives nearby who is going to come help a few hours twice a week. Just having someone to talk with is HUGE! Bless you for your answer...yes, I do need to notify his family. And relax and enjoy what time we may have left together in this life.

A fellow caregiver answered...

I have found it comes the time to say: (IF YOU ARE GOING TO ACT LIKE A CHILD, I WILL TREAT YOU LIKE A CHILD!) and mean it! I tried this past month to contact the other adult children in our family( 2 to be exact,) both younger than me. We (meaning Mom and Myself) are both low income, I quit my job to take care of her, as no one else would and I did not want her in a nursing-dying home. One sibling came over for 3 hours and did hygiene, then informed me after she left(she did not have to come in my dirty house to do such a thing and that her mother could be put in a nursing home where they are much cleaner, then she would visit her mother(but not have to help with hygiene).

Some days are better than others, yes you will have to treat him as a child, and of course he will tell you No! Pray a lot, and realize you still have Love for him and will have no guilt at his passing! God puts us through a lot of tough times, but he also Blesses us for being strong.

I know you say you have bad health, so do I, the lists is too numerous to list. But hang in there! I tease my Mother about I don't know for sure which one of us will go first, and she laughs some( has had a stroke, dementia, and still occuring TIAs, but she was there for me when I was born, now I will be there for her.

Love and Blessings you are not alone!

Go fer to the geezer answered...

Thanks to all who answered my original post. You were all very helpful and encouraging.
I was going through a very frustrating period then...early November. Had been dealing with I didn't know what for almost a year. Ironically, one of my husband's friends was the one who finally jarred him into action. The old friend (age 87 and with a pacemaker and three strokes under his belt) told him..."If you don't get yourself to a doctor pretty soon, old buddy, you're not going to be with us much longer...I think your kidneys are shutting down." So, after many months of me trying to get him to see a doctor other than his VA doctor, he finally concurred and asked me to take him to the ER 30 miles away.

I told him..."I will get our coats and car keys...don't change your mind while I'm in the other room..." and we went. It was on a Sunday.

The ER doctor took one look at him and proclaimed his thyroid was "On the floor"...that low! That was for starters...then there was the fact that he was filled with fluids everywhere that he couldn't eliminate, and he had been telling me "I'll be fine..." He was admitted to the hospital, there for nine days, then moved to a nursing home for just two days under two months.
He is home now, on 15 different medications...and the change is amazing! He is so helpful now, but needs to sit quickly when he feels his right knee going out sometimes. But he is cheerful and not freezing all the time like he was. He was going into kidney faillure...congestive heart failure, and had a blood clot in his heart. His blood sugar was also elevated most of the time.

NOW! The clot is gone, the swelling is gone (he lost 60 pounds! of just water) and his blood sugar is so stable he is even off the insulin which the hospital had put him on, which he had never needed before..all related to his thyroid being low. He went back to his VA doctor the other day, and that doctor told him "You were one sick puppy! And one of the most stubborn men I've ever met! Your assignments now, Sir, for the next month, are...listen to your wife!" LOL

God's blessings to all of you, and thanks again for this great website of help for caregivers.

Joyg answered...

I am so pleased that things have turned around for you. That is why it is so important to play the hard nosed advocate or to find a friend like you did to do it for you. We must at least force them to go to the doctor so that some of us can have a good result like you did. You are in my prayers.

Zweigx answered...

I love happy endings! So glad things have turned around for you, Go-Fer to the Geezer.

Feeling stuck in a situation such as you described is the worst kind of frustration; but when we can't see other alternatives, it's best to do as you did...ask others what they can see to do which we might try next to shift the situation enough to unstick ourselves.

I'm sure your asking here has helped many others and will continue to be helpful.

Hugs and blessings to both you and the Geezer.