We are concerned for my mother-in-law's safety in living alone in her home, but how can we convince her to move?

2 answers | Last updated: Nov 22, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother-in-law lives in the house where my father-in-law shot and killed himself in May (he suffered from dementia and a shoulder accident from doing yardwork). The big house has steep steps, a huge yard, a difficult driveway, and my mother-in-law drinks and has insomnia (she uses sleeping pills). We're trying to figure out how to convince her to move, but it's so overwhelming for her and she resists at every turn. We worry for her safety, but want to help her retain her dignity. Thank you.

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.

Thank you so much for sharing your question with Caring.com.  It will be helpful to others.   It is hard to lose a loved one and harder still if the loss is from suicide. Yet, suicide is one of the leading causes of death, especially in men over the age of 70 during the spring and summer months. 

 In the midst of deep trauma, your mother-in-law is taking you into the conflict between independence and safety---one of the main conflicts between elders and their grown children. 

The good news is that you have stepped out beyond the family to seek advice.   The community can be a source of help. Your family   will probably need medical, psychological and spiritual support before you can address the question of the move.

First, make sure that her doctor knows about the interaction of alcohol and sleeping pills.  Then start with grief counselling.  Your mother in law may not want it.  You may have to learn patience and discover what attitude to approach her with.   You could call a suicide hotline to get advice about helping survivors of suicide.  Sometimes counselors come to your home.  Hospice has good grief counselling.   Or ask your doctor or minister.    You can use the web and search for grief counselling in your community. 

You could also check with the Area Agency on Aging and hospitals for support groups.  If she won't go, it will help if you do.   The point is to begin to surround her with health professionals, friends, family and other support systems who can approach her with sympathy and appreciation for what she is going through. 

Then it may be more possible to address her very real safety issues.   "Mom, now that Dad is gone would you like to have some care at home?"  Or, "Mom would you like to live in that independent living community down the road from us?"

Sometimes we fall into a kind of dead end thinking about our elders.  We think that she is too old to be helped, that all she can do is to move.   But she will take her mind with her.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if she could be healed, so when the time comes, she could move on?  And so could we. 

Community Answers

Mrasch answered...

Your answer is helpful. Especially the need for support groups. Because I need support to realize that while I am trying to be patient and allow her dignity and independence, I can not control the fact that the doctors and professionals do not have the same sense of urgency as we do for our loved ones. In the meantime if something awful is going to happen, I am doing the best I can.