My parents really need help, but they refuse. What can we do?

2 answers | Last updated: Jun 29, 2010
A fellow caregiver asked...

My Mom(68) suffered a head injury and is only about 80% normal. Her short term memory along with her memory in general is her greatest limitation. She seems to remember all the bad and remember it even worse than it really is. If she get overtired, no matter where we are she will get very angry. It usually makes a very big scene. We tried to get help but instead of helping her the hospital just took her from us and put her in an institution. After several days, we were finally able to visit her. It was unbelievable. In tears my Mom told me that she was not crazy but if I left her there she would be. We had to go to court to get her out. We as a family agreed she would never go through that hell again. We as a family worked together to ensure she was taken care of. Last year, my Dad had a stroke and lost his sight. He now also seem not to think clearly and often forgets. He has also said he wanted to claim bankruptcy to ensure he does not lose his house, etc., from all the creditors that are harassing him. He is not thinking straight. He just spent $2100  to get his van fixed and the things is maybe worth 1000.00. My Mom is driving even when she forgets where she is going and how to get there. They both refuse to allow any of us, my brother or myself, to care for them and move from their home, even though they are unable to care for it. We are all at a loss. So we sit and wait for another major accident or for their funds to run out we see no other choices. Your advice would be greatly appreciated.

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.

Thanks for this question:  you describe so well a common dilemma.  You see your parents as troubled.  They see themselves as capable.   The task is to start where your parents are; then help them along the path of aging in small steps. Patience, patience patience.

Your parents are still young even though their brains may not be working properly.  They may be frightened that you will take them out of their home, take their independence, take their money, and all of their good times.

Try to increase your family visits and gatherings.   Without trying to accomplish any goals, spend more time together having fun---whatever that is for your family i.e. meals, walks, movies, games. 

Spend as much time as you can telling your parents how much you love them or appreciate them. Be specific.  Mom, I remember that ribbon you got when I was 10. I loved it.  Or, I thought of Blackie the other day.  He was the best dog.

At the same time privately consult with the Department of Motor Vehicles to see if they have any programs to test and re-train for driving.. If you don't want to check with an agency, ask AARP or your local senior center.

Also, try to find support groups for people suffering from strokes or traumatic brain injury.   Try to talk your mother into going with you to such a group.  If she won't go, go on your own for awhile.  Surround yourself with patient support and suggestions from  those who are going through the difficulty of brain injury.  It will help you to know better how your mother is feeling so that you will come up with solutions about how to approach her.

With your father, you will have to say over and over.  Dad, I really care about you.   Can we do things together?  I think you paid too much to get your truck fixed.  I want to help.    If he gets angry, back off, change the subject, wait until another day to show you want to help him retain his independence.  

Also, as a final note.  Your father could benefit from geriatric psychiatry.    It may be a delicate subject, but some elders develop or display symptoms of mental disorder that didn't show when they were younger.   You may need to think about how you could accomplish finding treatment for your father.  Perhaps you could speak with his family doctor first in order to get a referral.  Take your time.   Wait for the right opportunity.   Trust that your father needs you.   You can offer your help.    It may take awhile before he is willing to receive. 

Community Answers

Missy answered...

What a tough situation!  I have a few ideas.  My mother-in-law had a brain tumor and surgery to remove it.  As a result, she also has terrible memory issues.  We were able to find a type of place for her to live called a continuing care retirement community.  She lives independently in an apartment with lots of safety features.  There are call buttons in a few locations, a sensor near the front door that alerts the staff if she doesn't pass it at least once in so many hours, LOADS of activities and many transportation options so that she doesn't have to drive much at all.  It sounds miles away from the type of "institution" your mom experienced and maybe your parents would be open to looking into something like this.  This type of facility is also cool because it does have care available for those needing more.  Once you buy into one, your care if guaranteed, regardless of level needed.  My mother-in-law went in there independent and feels relaxed about needing more care because it'll still be in the same complex when/if the time comes.

Another motivator to your parents be your mom's experience in an institution.  Let her know that if something happens that incapacitates her or your dad, you may not be able to take care of them, so it's really in her best interest to accept now to prevent accidents.

Best of luck to you!