Is there anyway we can make my husbands mother seek medical...

4 answers | Last updated: Feb 10, 2012
Tas asked...

Is there anyway we can make my husbands' mother seek medical care? About two months ago, she became ill and has not gotten out of the bed since. She doesn't want to eat and she refuses to go to the doctor. Her husband is not capable of caring for her and it is placing a hardship on the rest of the family as someone has to stay there at all times to care for her. Can we make her seek medical help and if so , how?

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 for this question.  I try to picture your mother-in-law.   Is she old, is she fearful, is she in pain?   Has she been stubborn, downtrodden, or trying so hard all of her life?   Or is she one who has given up too easily? In times of old an elder might take to her bed for the rest of her life. It was a mystery to the rest of the family.  It was often referred to as vapors.

Also, I try to picture you and your family.  Trying to give bedside care is not easy at best.  At the same time I am touched that you accept the task. At any time you could call an ambulance.  Your mother-in-law could be taken to the emergency room and evaluated.  But it is hard to go against the wishes of parents.  

 I think it would be good to get a geriatric care  manager, or nurse practitioner or geriatric social worker for an assessment or evaluation.  It often helps to get a view beyond the family circle.  Your mother might tell a professional health care provider things that she won't tell the family.  I once visited a woman and her daughter.  As soon as the daughter left the room, the mother told me,  "I am going to die soon, but I don't want my children to know." 

 If you are unable to get professional assistance,  try to coax her for awhile.  Try to connect her to a sense of her journey in life by surrounding her with her preferences.  Would she be touched by a bouquet of her favorite blossoms, or the aroma? Would a soft fabric on her pillow help?   Would nice lotion on her back and legs make her feel well enough to want to live?  Does she like music or passages from the bible or a favorite poem?   Some people like to look at pictures of family. Does she have friends who might visit?

After a time, if nothing works, you might have to respect her refusal. 

Tell her, very gently,  that you don't want her to die, but that you respect her right to choose.   "Mother, we are afraid that you might die if you don't see the doctor."   Try to open some communication.  "Mother, I am afraid that if you don't eat and drink, that we will have to get hospice."    Or you might even say, with love, "Mother, we want to care for you, but we have our own lives to live. We need to hire a caregiver to help you."   Sometimes irritation is enlivening. 

And if nothing works, you will have to let her go.   Sit with her, hold her hand, help her get her affairs in order.   Gently ask her what hymns she would like at her funeral.  In a time, all too short, your time as a caregiver will be over.  You will feel good knowing that you gave it all that you could.





Community Answers

Beranek1960smw answered...

I heartily agree with Ann. Make every possible, respectful attempt you can to get a medical professional involved. But caring for a loved one who's choices troubles you can be frustrating. In my 12 years as a nurse I have faced this question many times. To ease my own fustration it helped me to redefine caring. My new definition is helping the person (loved one, patient) to live as healthy a life as possible, WITH THE CHOICES THEY HAVE MADE. Redefining this as success has provided me more peace as I care for those whose choices I do not agree with. Every person of legal age (assumiing mental competency is not in question) has the right to choose for themself. If necessary change your perception. In the medical profession when a patient refuses treatment it is almost universal that caregivers become the adversary of the patient. I do not. I sit down with them and let them know that I am on their side. I still help them make follow-up appointments and discuss there needs with them, and treat them emotionally and professionally exactly as I treat my patients who agree with the treatment plan 100%. Together we design a new treatment plan that fits with their choices. Sit with your mother, find out what her goals are, find out what she cares about. Then identify those goals for her which you have in common. For instance she may be expecitng to die, and you need not contradict that, but she may also be in pain and unhappy about that. The two of you can come up with a plan to ease her pain, and perhaps it may include a visit with a medical professional to provide some medication or just a better understanding of how to ease the pain without medication. Cooperation between the two of you on any point can be the beginning of change for the entire situation. In time you may meet many of your current goals as you are able to work together because you became her partner and supported her in her choices.

A fellow caregiver answered...

Please who is the person in charge?

If a person is refusing to do something that is beneficial to their own health. I think it is the responsiblity of the care-giver to take and stand up for the person. You must insist that this person leaves the house or get the Emergency Squad to come take the person to the hospital. Yes it will cost money, but in the long-run you will be saving the person's LIFE.

A fellow caregiver answered...

I have been taking care of a woman that also refuses medical help. It was not untill after she had a fall that we were able to get some help. But you do have options. You can contact a social worker to come into the house and evaluate her . They are full of refurals that are your area. If she is evaluated as a danger to her self and un capable of making healthy decisions for herself their is a process that would allow someone to become her gardian. It does require a doctor to deem her uncabable of making decisions. They would be able to guide you in the direction of getting her to a doctor.