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What can we do when we are not the primary caregiver and we see something we think is dangerous?


Question: My 91 year old uncle has low blood pressure problems. He lives with his 88 year old sister. Recently, this caused him to faint or have a mild seizure, and fall down a flight of stairs. He is in rehab now and they are getting ready to send him back to his sister’s house with the dangerous stairway. My uncle and my aunt have agreed to this solution. They both feel that he's going to go sometime, stairs or not, and don't seem to care. I see this as a recipe for disaster. What can we who are not primary caregivers do? Everyone else in my family thinks I'm overreacting but even though I'm not the primary caregiver, I am feeling tremendous responsibility which I can do nothing about. What does one do in a situation such as this?

Dr. Amy: I would recommend that you talk to the social worker or discharge planner at the rehab center to find out their views about the situation. Are they concerned or do they feel that this is a safe situation? If possible, you should schedule a meeting with the staff at the rehab center and your aunt and uncle so that you can all talk about this together. If they object to having a meeting, reassure them that your goal is to help them maintain their independence, not to take it away. You can let them know that you are interested in talking with the staff to find out the best way to support them in staying independent. Even if the rehab center recommends that your uncle not return to the house, he still has the right to do so if he is cognitively intact. I know that it is very hard when a loved one makes a decision we don’t agree with. However if your uncle does decide to come home it may be easier for you if you feel you have had the opportunity to talk with professionals involved in his care and to express your opinions to them and to your aunt and uncle.

Make sure that you have good support, too! If you have a friend or a caregiver support group where you can talk about the situation it may help you cope as changes occur. Your uncle is very lucky to have such a caring relative!

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