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My 75 year old mother has health issues and is depressed. She lives with me and expects me to spend all my free time with her. I've taken her to a support group but she refuses to attend. What can I do?


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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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. July 27, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Posted by Carly

    There are lot's of individuals going through this situation or something very similar. Senior centers, home health, companions, and volunteers are all great ideas. I would add another suggestion, have you heard of Adult Day Care? They provide the opportunity for you and your loved one to get out of the house and receive the supervision and assistance during the day that they may need. It gives them the opportunity to make friends, eat meals with others, join in activities, socialize, and receive healthcare assistance. They are also affordable.


  2. July 20, 2011 at 3:11 am | Posted by Sally

    I had a very similar situation with my mom after my father died. She came to live with my son and I as she was legally blind and a brittle diabetic and had been in and out of the hospital four times in the past year for congestive heart failure, diabetic episodes , and just from not taking care of herself. She became very depressed when she had to give up her home and her independence and never seemed to want to leave the house yet I felt it unsafe for her to stay alone at my house as she had almost burned it down one time because of her not seeing something next to the burner on the stove and it catching on fire. I finally took her by the senior center when we were out "just to see what it was like" and they made her feel so welcome she agreed to go just once. The van came and picked her up at the house and before you knew it she couldnt wait to go and was going three times a week and coming home telling me stories of how all the women were hitting on Ed and how he really seemed to only have eyes for Myrtle but Blanche was giving Myrtle a run for her money. She had us in stitches over the stories of the goings on at the center. It was the best thing that could have happened for her, and for us. She needed to feel useful and that she had her own life and the center provided that and it gave me time to be able to do errands and go to appointments etc and be able to leave the house knowing that I didn't have to worry about her being cared for. Maybe you can try something similar for your mom. If she wont go out, like the other person said, you might find a volunteer through the church who wuld be willing to come into your home also. Good luck!!


  3. July 18, 2011 at 10:10 pm | Posted by Mary

    I would suggest the daughter find a "friend" for her mother. Maybe a Home health aide, someone to spend time with the mother and can give the family needed respite. Sometimes sharing feelings with a non family member helps, they can see things from a different view.


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