What are my options for regaining care of Mom?

1 answer | Last updated: Jun 21, 2010
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother has dementia and I have been helping her with her daily needs like doctor appointments, filling her prescriptions, making sure she takes her medications and maintaining her checkbook. My sister lives in Georgia and she resents the fact that I see to Mom's bank account.

She was home for Thanksgiving and told my mother that I have been stealing from her, placing things where my mom can not find them, and that I took a box of checks. My mom hides things and course does not remember where she puts them. My mother has accused me of stealing after my sister left and I am shocked and heartbroken. I am the only one here to see to her.

Mom can no longer handle her checkbook and my sister took mom to the bank and had my password deleted and now I can not get online to see her account. Should I contact my mothers attorney? My sister tells Mom that she does not have dementia, even though the doctor put her on Aricept.

My husband went talk to Mom about this and he said there is no changing her mind about me. She said she does not want me to come to house anymore. I am worried sick about Mom. My sister has always been the baby of the family and can do no wrong in Mom's eyes. She is a very unhappy person. Mom does not need to be driving, but my sister tells her she drives okay. What do I do? By the way I am named as the first power of attorney and my sister is named second since she does live so far away.

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a Caring.com senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

This question reads very much like another one recently received from your state of Georgia, with the exception of a different medicine being prescribed for the mom in the picture. So at the risk of being repetitive, am forwarding the answer below in case it missed your emailbox.

The one new piece of information in this question that may change the picture, however, is about you being named agent in your mom's power of attorney. Take a hard look at the wording in the power of attorney and see when and how it takes effect. Some of them "spring" into effect immediately when made"”empowering the agent to act at once. Others take effect only when a person is legally incapacitated; having dementia is usually not enough"”he or she must lack the ability to handle personal finances or personal care and safety. And a few require the written verification of one or more doctors before the power of attorney will take effect.

If you already have the authority to act under your mom's power of attorney, then you can legally step in and make decisions required to maintain her best interests.

The other concerns are addressed in the answer posted earlier: If your sister is an organized and conscientious type, it is possible for her to track your mother's account online, as many long-distance caregivers do. But that doesn't sound as if it's the biggest problem"”or the biggest hurt"”that you are now facing. What sounds most difficult is being branded a thief and being effectively banned from your mom's life.

Assuming you and your sister both want to remain in your mom's life, you will have to find a way to care for her together because that is simply the phase you're in now. You and your sister undoubtedly bring different talents and abilities to the table: one of you may be better at negotiating medical care, one of you better with finances.

In an ideal world, your mom, your sister and you could sit down and talk about what help your mom needs most and who might be best able to provide it. Don't overlook help from outsiders"”such as volunteers from community groups or services for the elderly. In many places, help is available free or for a low cost"”and often, having an outsider step in helps remove some of the angst or even competition siblings may feel when left with caregiving duties all on their own.

But if you, like many of us, live in a less than ideal world in which a civil sitdown with your sibling and mom would seem impossible right now, then again, consider enlisting the help of an outsider"”perhaps another relative or close family friend who could help moderate the discussion. If no one comes to mind, consider getting help from a family mediator or community dispute resolution group.