Question: I am a 45 year old mother with a 13 year old daughter. I have been married for 17 years and have chronic pain and am unable to work. Over the last five years I have been assisting my parents. My mother is 85, father is 90. They now reside in different retirement homes. My father has frontal lobe dementia and heart issues. My mother no longer wants the responsibility of his care & has left the burden for me to deal with. Although he is still fairly high functioning, his health is declining. Our next step would be to move him to a nursing home as he isn't functioning well at his current location. How do I even begin this process when all he wants is to live with his wife? He is in and out of the hospital regularly and this is taking a massive toll on me and my immediate family. This has taken a massive toll on my relationship with my sister, as she doesn't feel it is our responsibility to care for our parents. Any suggestions?
Dr. Amy: I doubt it will bring you much comfort to know this, but you are part of the growing ‘sandwich generation’—people taking care of both their children and their parents. Managing chronic pain on top of this makes it harder, and the fact that you and your sister have different points of view about your responsibility for your parents' care only complicates things. I want you to know it is quite common for adult children of aging parents to have very different ideas about what kind of care their parents need— as well different views on their responsibilities in providing and overseeing that care. This is often a source of much frustration for family caregivers.
It sounds like you need help finding a way to honor your sense of duty to your parents, arrange care that is appropriate to their needs and wishes, while also preserving your relationship with your sister. You two will need each other when your parents are gone. If cost is not a barrier, I encourage you to hire a geriatric care manager to assess your parents’ situation and help you make plans. A geriatric care manager can help you figure out what you can realistically handle on your own, where you need help, and what resources exist in your area. Geriatric care managers have an excellent understanding of family dynamics and can also talk with you and your sister together. Your sister may not be willing to help your parents, but she may be prepared to help you. Are there tasks she could do that would free you to handle the caregiving end of things? The point is to come up with a plan that allows you to support your parents as much as possible while still enjoying life with your family.
A care manager can also help you figure out the best approach to talking with your father and will likely be able to help guide that conversation. Because of your dad’s cognitive issues he may continue to tell you he wants to live with his wife, even after you talk with him. If you are unable to afford support from a geriatric care manager please consider a dementia support group. The people in that group will have likely dealt with similar issues and be able to figure out the best approach to talk with you dad and to offer him comfort.
You are balancing a lot at the moment and I’m glad you are reaching out for help. If you are unable to afford help from a geriatric care manager, call the Area Agency on Aging in your community and ask them for resources.
Good luck to you on your journey.
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