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I care for my 97 year old mother-in-law. I'm feeling overwhelmed and frustrated because I don't get much help from other family members. What do I do?


Question: I am 47 years old and a housewife. I take care of my 97 year old mother-in-law who is bed ridden. The rest of the family leaves all the care on me. There is a granddaughter who is in her final year of nursing school, and unless I ask no help is provided. My husband works, so his help is minimal or none. There are times I feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and just taken advantage of, but I don''t complain or talk about it. What do I do?

Dr. Amy: Taking care of someone who needs a lot of help can be physically and emotionally draining. Not everyone understands just how much work it is. I encourage you to ask for more help.

The fact that you feel overwhelmed does not mean that your family wants you to feel this way. Very often, people are just absorbed in their own busy lives. They assume that if you are not asking for help, you have everything under control.

In my experience, most people are willing to help. But how we ask for help can sometimes determine whether we get the results we want. The following tips may help:

  • Write down all the tasks you perform for your mother-in-law
  • Decide which ones other people could help you with. Do you have friends or family you can turn to, in addition to your husband and granddaughter? Be realistic about what each person can do given his or her age, relationship to your mother-in-law, and other commitments.
  • Let the person know in advance that you would like to talk
  • Pick a time when you will not be distracted, so you can both focus on the conversation
  • If you are feeling angry or resentful, try to let go of your feelings before you ask for help so you can approach the conversation with an open heart and mind  
  • Be clear about the type of help you are looking for. Give enough detail so the person understands what is involved
  • Ask the person if they would be willing to help you
  • Express your thanks (assuming they agree to help)

If you don't ask for help, the stress of constantly feeling overwhelmed and frustrated may wear you down over time. That's not good for you or for anyone. It's vitally important that caregivers take care of themselves!

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. April 25, 2014 at 3:54 pm | Posted by Suzanne

    I care for my 92 MIL. She has broken her hip twice and is recuperating now from the 2nd break. She normally gets around well with her cane. And she drives. The problem I have is she lives upstairs from us and she has no friends. At least no friends of her own. She always hung-out with her sister, now passed, etc. So now she goes "everywhere" with me. Get tired of it. Thanks for letting me vent here. I have tried numerous times to introduce her to church friends, her age, etc. but never has she considered going out to dinner with them instead of just me, for example. Makes me feel older, I'm 58. I need folks my own age.


  2. June 29, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Posted by noWa

    you are an in law. there is no way i would be stuck doing what you are doing. get a job outside the home and your husband and his brother will have to figure something out.. GOOD LUCK


  3. July 30, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Posted by Linda Evans

    Wow! I feel like I am reading a page from my life. We (husband & I) are caring for his parents and even though husband has family, i.e., brother/nieces & cousins, it seems ALL the responsibility falls on James. I admit I do become quite irate, such as 20 minutes ago, doing the "bed" routine and there was the usual stress associated with the situation. I do not know if my husband's family would be willing to extend themselves to offer assistance, we saw them at a family event 2 wks ago - and I don't recall any of the nephews OR the "other son?" come over to the parents and say, "Hi! How are you?", or anything of that sort. I realize I might be a "little" uptight at the moment, but I thought family was to pull together in a crisis, I find more support at church than I do with these people my husband is allegedly related to by blood!!! Thank you so much for letting me vent! Take care all!!!


    • February 25, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Posted by Ilyas

      SO true Dannielle. I have a hard time ansikg for help as well, but luckily I have some pretty intuitive family members and friends who know when to offer :-)


  4. May 12, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Posted by Barbara

    This helps me a lot, i have the exact same situation except it is my own mother. This is what i did: Have your family pitch in some money and hire a caregiver from say 7 am until noon everyday. That way, you can at least sleep in from changing the diapers at night. Also, I have someone come in during the week two nights in a row from 6pm to 10 pm. This makes my Tuesdays and Wednesdays a "week end". I just have to get through Saturday and Sunday. So the state sends a bather on Saturday and she takes care of her in the morning. This only costs about $300 a week (I say only because I have 4 people pitching in, and they are really good about it). You have to write a letter to your family saying this is what you need. Best wishes, it worked for me.


  5. March 2, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Posted by Paulette

    Check into your community services, you might find organizations that can help. If you mother-n-law, has a new diagnosis and if she if medicare is primary she may qualify for home health services. This would have to be discussed with her primary care physician to make certain there is a need for this type services. We all know with all the changes medicare is going through, we want to ask for that services if the client is in need of care from an outside agency. If she has a valid need and medicare is her primary insurance then medicare will pay 100 percent. If you could make arrangements to speak with her doctor he may be able to assist you in finding other services available in your community that could help. Not knowing where you live, this is what is available where I live: Neighbor-to-neighbor and people who care. You need a break to replenish yourself. Hope this helps. Paulette, LPN


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