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How do I tell Mom I had to sell her home?

11 answers | Last updated: Jan 31, 2015
An anonymous caregiver asked...

I'm struggling with how to tell my 80-year old mother that I had to sell her mobile home recently because she was placed into a nursing home in early September. As her daughter, I was activated as her POA for Health & Finance. She's lived in this mobile home for 35 years and went from a hospital stay directly into a nursing home. Since her lease is going to expire in December 2009, I figured I'd better get it sold because I didn't want to renew the year's lease because I know she won't ever be able to live independently anymore. If I didn't sell it, I'd have to pay between $3,000-$5,000 to have it towed off the lot she rents which she cannot afford...I found a buyer for the place and sold it two weeks ago,but I'm having great anxiety about telling my mother because I don't know how she will react. With her dementia problems and aggressive behavior, I don't know how to best tell her without causing greater anxiety. I've brought her personal belongings over to my house and it's stored in my basement, but basically left everything else in her mobile home and it was sold "as is". Any advice you can give me would be greatly appreciated!


Caring.com User - Ken Robbins, M.D.
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Kenneth Robbins, M.D., is a senior medical editor of Caring.com. He is board certified in psychiatry and internal medicine, has a master's in public...
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Ken Robbins, M.D. answered...

It sounds like you have done your best to be a responsible daughter. I presume you decided what you thought would be in your mother's best interest, and you then See also:
How can I help my dad, who has Alzheimer's, communicate?
acted accordingly. The question now is should you tell your mother what you have done. If your mother's dementia is sufficiently advanced that her power of attorney was activated, I would assume her memory is markedly impaired and she is probably having great difficulty reasoning. I would wonder, then, how it would help her to be told her home has been sold. In general, I don't believe it is helpful to tell someone with later stage Alzheimer's Disease something that will predictably upset them. They will be upset in the moment, but not likely remember what you said. Furthermore, in this case your mom will have trouble understanding how you came to the decision you reached, and this likely will trigger anger. She has already been aggressive, and this news may trigger more aggressiveness. This is not in anyone's best interest. On the other hand, I would not suggest lying. If she directly asks whether you sold her home, I would recommend you tell her the truth. You would have to do your best to gently tell her about the financial difficulties and assure her you did what you believe is in her best interest. If you are put in a position where you have to tell her, given her poor memory, the damage to her should be limited. Good luck!


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montellocamper answered...

Dear Dr. Robbins:

I thank you for taking the time to respond to my e-mail. As of today (11/4/09) I haven't said anything to her yet. There have been occasions when she has referenced "going home" but I'm hoping that she forgets about that the longer she's in the nursing home. If she asks me outright, I will have to tell her I guess.


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ladl77 answered...

Dear montellocamper, I just wanted to add something about your mother's references to "going home". When, and if, this happens again just tell her that the doctors said that she cannot live alone anymore...make them the bad guys. There's enough guilt around what we must do for their best interests...don't add anymore. I can totally relate as my mother is always referencing her money one way or another. I don't think she could grasp the details anymore so I am very vague when I answer so I don't worry her.


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Marney answered...

From my experience with parents suffering cognitive decline, I agree with the advice to consider not telling your mother about the sale of her mobile home. However, she may care as much about her personal possessions as about the home itself, and you have something very positive to say about them. If it becomes necessary to discuss her former home, I'd encourage you to tell her (and as much as possible, show her) that her very own things are still hers, and that you will protect them for her. It's easier to avoid the painful subject of losing her physical home if you can refer to everything she still owns and can enjoy. Consider making her current living situation as personalized as possible (perhaps by putting photos on the wall, etc.), and bring things with you to discuss with her so that she can still feel in her own familiar world.


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liu_fengxi answered...

A friend recently gave me this quote by Grace Hopper, the first woman to become an admiral in the US Navy: "If it's a good idea, go ahead and do it. It's much easier to apologize than it is to get permission." In my case my mother has Alzheimer's and my father is in the early stages of dementia. My father often refuses to allow me to fix their house, which is deteriorating and likely will have to be sold in the near future, as both parents are having mobility issues. However, I finally stopped asking for permission to do simple things like painting a room or replacing a corroded faucet. It's painfully apparent my father's reasoning is impaired, and discussing anything that might change his surroundings just agitates him. But I've noticed that after I've completed these tasks, he and my mother hardly even notice the difference. Your situation is different in that you actually sold your mother's home: but ask yourself if she would have been able to make these decisions on her own, or was able to care for the mobile home in the first place. You made the right choice! Don't feel bad. You really deserve a reward for taking care of her personal belongings, as many people I know have simply thrown all of their parents' belongings in the garbage or given them to charity.


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Still Hopeful answered...

This is my first post, but my heart went out to you. I was in your shoes last year and I can still feel the pain of what you are going through. My father passed away unexpectedly last year after caring for my mother with moderate Alzheimer's in their home. They lived in Texas, I live in Tennessee. I had to move my mother to an Assisted Living facility in TN, she can still "function" some on her own so isn't on the Alzheimer's floor yet. I had to sell their home and most of the furnishings in it as I couldn't get a truck and move things to TN, nor would there be room. I had to make the decision on what she could keep and take with us withought being able to ask for her input. We really coudln't tell her we were moving her to TN for good, we told her to "try it out for the summer". The guilt I experienced was gut wrenching as I felt I was taking away the past 30 years of her happy life in TX. One of the smarter things I did was call the Alzheimer's Association to get help. They told me that my mother was incapable of making decision, and I had to make them, regardless of how hard. So I set my main goal - taking care of my mother. That was first. Then I made a list of things "in the way of doing that", one being the house and furnishings. I couldn't take care of a house in TX (or close by for that matter), and be there to care for my mother. There was no question the house needed to go, but I still felt tremendous guilt. I worried what to say if my mother asked. After over a year she has never asked about the house specifically, but has insisted about going back to Texas. I tell her how nice it would be if we could push the clock back and go to the time when Dad was still there. But unfortunately it wouldn't be the same. I try to redirect the conversation empathizing her her current situation about how difficult it must be to have made the changes, but how much better it is that she is safe and how proud I am of her for dealing with things like she is. I try go keep her encouraged and try to move the conversation away from the house. Though this is a constant conversation as she doesn't remember from one time to the next, one time she did acknowledge she couldn't live by herself. Other times she says she wants a place of her own. But she has never specifically asked about the house. I know you don't want to lie - I was raised the same. But one of the books I've read talks about "emotional truths". You tell them what you think they can handle. I've stretched the truth on many occaisions. Most of the time when things get rough I try to acknowledge her feelings and redirect with something positive about her. It does seem to help. I have a long way to go and am taking it day by day. My mother too is 80, but other than Alzheimer's is in excellent health.

Good luck - I really don't think she will specifically ask about the house, but she will probably talk about wanting to go home. My mother has even mentioned going back to Michigan, which she hasn't lived for probably 50 years.

Trying to make it!


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FrankC answered...

I've always heard it said that with an Alzheimer's pt who asks about someone who's passed, you don't say they're dead as they then experience that person's death as if it just happened that moment. Instead, redirect them by saying that they're away for a bit and maybe you'll see them.

In this context, if they continually ask about the home, they're going to re-experience its loss each time you tell them it's been sold. I'd say something along the line that for now you ARE home, and one or two simple reasons to support it, and no long and drawn-out guilt-ridden explanations. See how that works. If they ask about specific things that you understand might be comforting to have near them, maybe they can be brought to the home. Compassion is the key.


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Patricia G. answered...

Montellocamper,my heart goes out to you. I know it is very hard for you to have had to make these decisions. What would Mom want to keep if she were to have to decide for herself. What does she really need to keep. If she asks outright about going home or about her home. Explain that she can't live by herself anymore. That you had to sell the home because the up keep and leaving it set empty so far away it might be vandalized, and all her things could be destroyed. That you done what you thought your Dad would have wanted her to do. It's a very hard decision for any child to have to make. I made my will and put instructions telling my daughter to keep what she wants and sell or give away the rest. I don't want her having to go through this when I am no longer able to make decisions on my own, or when I pass. Talking about the inveitable with parents,children,or a spouse is hard to think about when they are healthy and happy, but it's the best time to do it. Because we only live from minute to minute, we have no way of knowing what lies ahead for us from day to day. Best of luck in everything you do and are going through. Always remember you done this to help your Mother not to hurt her.


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The Caregiver's Voice answered...

This is a natural fear. After my husband and I placed my father in a nursing home and I sold his Wisconsin home of 45 years, I feared that one day, my father would "snap out of it" and the dialogue would go something like this: "Okay, I'm done here. I want to go back home." "Uhhhh...ummmm, well, hmmmmm, we sold your home." "What?" "Weeeaaaalll, uhhhhh, well, we though..." "You sold MY HOME?" "Weaaall, yeah...we didn't think you would be needing it and ..."

My advice is don't bring it up unless she asks. Do your best to defer to a related topic-- such as memories you two shared in her home.


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michael252 answered...

I am currently experiencing the same thing with my parent. If the topic comes up during a morning visit, he is very positive about selling and discussing how the new place is much better and doesn't want to go home. Of course he likes to see me visit on a regular basis which is possible. But during visits in the afternoon or evening, he wants to go home in a few days because home is home, he can function very well etc. As his POA, I am currently looking at offers and a sale is in the near future. So, if I am visiting in the PM I will use some of the ideas suggested. Thanks!


An anonymous caregiver answered...

I am currently going thru the same process. My Mom was living in a ALF due to medical as well a memory issues. She died in January, leaving my Dad even more alone. He was staying in their home but resisted any attempts to accept any outside help. House was getting run down, neighbors were calling, ultimately my Dad injured his back, doctors said he should not live alone, so I had his rehab completed by my home. I had been traveling 400 miles each weekend to try to handle everything at their home.
Dad is now in a memory unit by my home. He considers it rehab and thinks he will be going home. So my brother who lives in NY is coming to help with an Estate Sale. My dad is very healthy except for his cognitive issues. We plan on renting the home and using the income to help supplement his care. Lots of guilt over all this and I feel it would hurt him tremendously if he knew we were renting this home. We tell him we are taking care of his possessions and that appears to be of comfort. He forgets my Mom passed once in a while and relives that pain again, I just can't think about the pain he would get about losing his home.
Like other posts, I refer to his new apartment as his home. Point out that as he is much closer to family we are able to be together more often.