Question: My mother is diabetic and has had chronic depression all her life. Despite medication and re-adjustments, she has become a severe recluse and expects me to spend all of my free time with her. She is only 75 yrs old and is completely mobile. She can still drive, shop and perform most self care without aid. She lives with me, my husband and two small children. She has been showing episodes periodically of the beginning stages of dementia (her mother had Alzheimer's), but is not honest with her doctor about the depression or other symptoms. She also continues to binge on sweets and just increases her insulin, despite our diligence (strict shopping for diabetes to reduce temptation) and close monitoring. Her behavior at times can become quite child like. She refuses to get out and socialize. It's difficult to decipher if this is due to her age, depression or both, but it's taking a toll on me and my family. My siblings do nothing to help and she works to push my husband out of my life (without success) so she can have me all to herself. Separating from her will accelerate her decline. What can I do? I've taken her to a local support group, but she refuses to attend.
Dr. Amy: You're in a tough situation. Kudos to you for not giving up. It seems you have to sort out the medical issues and also to set boundaries. It sounds like your mother is experiencing mental health problems. You and your mother need to talk to the doctor. If she doesn't want to go with you, you can talk to her doctor yourself. To do this, you will need to have her permission in writing. You want to make sure mom is making rational decisions. If she is struggling with depression and dementia, her decision making capability won't be what it used to be. If your doctor can't help, ask for a referral to a specialist.
Sometimes it can take a while to find the right answer. Setting boundaries in a loving manner isn't easy. You want to be there for your mother but you also don't want to lose yourself and your family in the process. You are on a journey. There is no quick fix, and you will need a support system for yourself. There are excellent resources on dealing with difficult parents. A book I particularly like is, "Elder Rage, or Take My Father... Please!: How to Survive Caring for Aging Parents" by Jacqueline Marcell. It's a humourous and helpful book with many great ideas on how to manage a variety of challenges. There are also support groups for adult children like you. Call your local hospital or Area Agency on Aging for more information.
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