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I need a break but mom gets mad if I leave her. What to do?


Question: I care for my mom who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about seven years ago. I'm glad I can be with her 24/7. I do leave her with family for a few hours from time to time but when I do she is mad at me for hours before I go. Then she is unhappy with the person I leave her with (it is always one of her children). She doesn't know that I'm her daughter. Is it ok to leave her even knowing she is unhappy? Some days I just need a few hours out with my husband or daughters and she never wants to go anywhere. Does this get better with time or will I always feel bad when I leave her knowing she is not happy? I love her very much and want the best for her.

Dr. Amy: Your letter perfectly expresses the caregiving experience: along with the joy of caring for someone you love  may come long hours, guilt, helplessness, and worry that you are neglecting your family and your health.

It is essential to take regular breaks. There is a lot you can do right in your own home: exercises, meditation and yoga; a bath with essential oils and candles; a quiet cup of tea with a good book; a phone call with a close friend. But you also need to get out of the house, breath fresh air, and have some fun. While you mother may be unhappy, taking breaks and taking care of yourself means you will be healthy and able to care for her in the years to come. If you neglect your physical and mental health, you may fall ill or burn out.

That said, there are strategies to make the transition easier for your mom:

  • Don’t tell mom hours in advance that you are going out. It only upsets her.
  • Ask the person who will be caring for your mom in your absence to come early and have a cup of tea or something nice. Arrange it so this has the appearance of a friendly visit unrelated to your departure. Maybe this person visits to bring you or your mom a little gift or to lends you something.
  • After all three of you are settled in, step away saying only that you will be right back. Don’t make a big deal of your departure.
  • Have something enjoyable for your mom and the other caregiver to do while you are gone. When your mother asks where you are, the caregiver can reassure her that you will be right back.
  • If your mom is angry with you or the caregiver, divert her attention so that the anger is kept to a minimum. Simply say you are sorry and then change the subject to something she is genuinely interested in.

Is you can minimize the unpset for your mom, you may feel less guilty about taking these breaks. But even if your mom continues to be angry I encourage you to hold fast and continue to take breaks.

I send you strength.


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