What do I do when Mom refuses all help?

3 answers | Last updated: Mar 09, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

I need advice. My mom is 88 and living alone in a condo with steep stairs to her bedroom (upstairs) and basement. She sold her car and has no transportation. She is relying on my brothers and I to do everything for her. I live in another state, an hour and fifteen minutes away. My brothers are fifteen minutes away and refuse to do much for her. I received a call Tuesday that her freezer light was out. I told her I couldn't drop my plans and drive up to fix it, call one of her sons. One refused and the other couldn't come for two days. In the meantime, she discovered the freezer was over packed and it shut down to keep from over heating as the vents were blocked by boxes. At 11:30 PM her smoke detector battery is beeping; she calls me, will I drive up and fix it so she doesn't have to listen to it all night? The next day she got on a chair and pulled the battery out; it's at the top of those steep stairs; she's had a stroke and is unsteady. She constantly needs transportation to doctors, shopping (compulsive shopper), wants to go out and eat every day. She refuses to hire a housekeeper, even when given references. I quit cleaning her condo eight months ago and she has done nothing to clean it. Junk is piling in all areas and there is just a path everywhere to get through. The basement is floor to ceiling junk and you can't walk from one end to the other. She keeps buying more to add to it.

I took her to her attorney, and he sided with her that she never has to leave her place. She will not under any circumstances consider assisted living or a nursing home. I was told to back off. My husband and I are arguing over my spending entire days there to help her and the cost of gas and mileage to us. I know she is lonely and depressed. Her neighbors don't want anything to do with her; she stares out her window and keeps tabs on them and they are feeling stalked.

She refuses to use the senior van or call a taxi; considers it 'beneath her'. One son will take her to eat once a week, but she pays him for gas and pays for the meal. He hits her up for money constantly. The other son will take her to get groceries every two weeks, but originally had signed on for only once every four weeks. The other son went back on his promise to take her for groceries on the alternate two weeks.

She refuses to buy/wear a bracelet to call help if she falls. A handy man lives right next door and she refuses to hire him to fix anything. She has a developmentally disabled daughter that she has given guardianship to me. She wants this daughter brought home once a month for a visit. The last time, my sister was agitated and screaming; the neighbors called the police.

I was upset or days. I have two kids at home that need me here, as well as my husband having had open heart surgery recently. Her attorney declared her physically and mentally competent to live alone. Do I just leave her there to live in filth and get more depressed? My husband offered to buy her a condo to live very close to us; she could go with me to the grocery store, out to movies, etc. She said she didn't want to leave her area she's in. I had her stay with me for six weeks after surgery, and she made us so miserable that my husband, kids and I were in fear of her. My husband and I would hold each other and cry because she was intolerable, being outright cruel to us because this happened to her and she didn't want to be here. I promised never to move her in with us again.

She treated the hospital employees so badly I was told not to bring her back there. I had visiting nurses here for her, and I ran into one of the women afterward, and she told me my Mom had nothing nice to say about me and my family and that I should never have her stay with us again. I love my Mom and want to do what's best for her, but apparently we differ in opinion. I am executrix of her estate. One brother threatens me with lawsuits continually and demands to be sole inheritor; the other brother wants nothing but to be left alone. What in the world do I do?

Community Answers

Shrinking answered...

You can't have someone take advantage of you unless you let them do it--and clearly you are letting your mother take advantage of you, and enabling her to continue her bad behavior. If you want her to change, then you have to change what you are doing--mainly you have to stop helping her.Your brothers are already doing that. When she realizes the predicament she is in without your help, perhaps she will treat you with more respect--I say perhaps, because it is highly unlikely that she will come around at this point, but you have to try to do some "tough love" and see. Don't be at her beck and call-claim that you are sick and you can't come for a while. Then see what she does.

If you get no change after leaving her to her own devices for a while, then the next step you must take is to enlist the help of adult protective services, or a geriatric care manager who can help figure out what to do for her. You also could try to get guardianship of her, if it can be proven that she is endangering her health by living in poor conditions, which from what you describe seems like a good case. I would seek out an elder law attorney and find out about guardianship--what that other lawyer told you was incorrect--he is not a psychiatrist and can not evaluate your mother's condition. She very well could be unable to take care of her affairs, and then you would be able to put her in a nursing home once you got guardianship of her, and there is little that she could do about it once the court is involved.

I am going through a similar problem right now with my mother so I know exactly what you are dealing with...I have thought long and hard, and I made up my mind that I will not put up with this situation any more, and no matter how bad I feel about it, the best place for her is in a facility where she can drive professionals crazy and leave me out of it. I still want to have some kind of life without this stress, and so should you. Don't put up with this--it will only get worse if you do. Good Luck.

Dee marie answered...

Thank you, Shrinking, for your answer. Since this post, my Mom has been diagnosed with cancer and her neck vertebrae are deteriorating to the point that she is taking morphine for pain. She still insists on living alone and staying in her home. I hired a caregiver to take her out once a week for groceries, to the bank and to the library. I drive up every 2 -3 weeks to help her with whatever else she needs. She always has a long list of chores for me to do, mainly repairing things and cleaning. I get upset as I am up there washing her windows and I haven't done my own! I just tell myself that this is probably her last year and I need to do what I can for her. If I call her and she is extremely negative, to the point that she is depressing me, I make an excuse and get off the phone quickly. She is trying to be more considerate of my feelings, but I think it is due to my being the only child she has that sincerely wants to see her and help. She still refuses to hire a housekeeper, but the caregiver that comes in can also bathe her in the future if need be, etc. My husband's health continutes to deteriorate and I am just taking it one day at a time. I'm looking at a nursing home for my Mom, in case she falls and has to be admitted somewhere, but I know she won't go willingly, it will have to be an instance of 'no choice' for her. I had her buy her cemetary plot and I plan to make funeral arrangements in advance for her. I don't want to be devastated by her death and trying to cope with everything at once. My own health is suffering and I am trying to take time to do something I enjoy so as not to be so stressed. I had my kids spend a day with her, helping her with things recently. It will probably be the last time they spend time with her like that. She has alienated her other grandchildren. I'm keeping a journal so I don't do this to my kids! Good luck with your situation. I just keep saying I am lucky to still have her, even if it is tough some days.

A fellow caregiver answered...

@ Dee Marie, I'm not trying to be harsh but it looks like your Mom is dying and probably in a lot of pain. I know this is a frustrating situation for you, but you may have many years to clean your own windows and to do something you enjoy after your Mom is gone. I know it's aggravates you that she sounds so negative, but, she has cancer. Dying can be a scary frustrating thing filled with all sorts of complex hard emotions. I feel like our society has embraced the self-care mantra to the point of losing focus of the fact that there are times in life when you need to put your own desires aside. You would likely regret not spending all the time you could with your Mom after she's gone. A lot of people do. I think you should cherish the last remaining time she has on Earth, by focusing on how you can comfort her, make life easier for her, and make her smile. The last thing a dying person needs is to feel that a loved one doesn't want to be around them, when this is time of dying is probably the most difficult thing they have ever had to face. I think you should put your wishes aside (temporarily) and care for your Mom. There was a time in your own life when you were a helpless baby and your Mother had to care for you and your needs whether it inconvenienced her or you were being a typical toddler and throwing wearisome tantrums repeatedly. The tables are turned now, and she needs your help only for a little bit. There are people out there who can support you, maybe you can arrange for a concierge or cleaning service to help you, or ask friends and family for their practical support of you during this time. You can do this.