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Caught In The Middle Caring For Elderly Parent



My 88 year old mother lives alone in a beautiful condo that she owns. While still able to care for her own personal needs, by her own admission, she is beginning to feel the strain of paying bills, and all those responsibilities associated with being a property owner. She also owns a condo in Florida, where she goes for the winter months. My sister, Ellen, and I do not live in the same city as our mother. I live 2 hours away and Ellen is 6 hours away but we are both very involved in her care despite the distance.

Mom is beginning to have memory problems and has expressed some interest in moving to the same assisted living residence where her sister and brother-in-law currently live. It all sounds wonderful and I am fully on board with this idea, especially since neither my sister nor I can get to our mother quickly should something happen to her. Ellen has mixed feelings about our mother’s move. She feels that the anxiety of moving will cause a rapid decline in Mom’s mental state and that she will have difficulty adjusting to a new home. Also, while I see my mother moving to the same facility as her sister as a positive, Ellen believes that an old history of sibling rivalry between our mother and her talented older sister will rear its ugly head and that our mother will lose her individuality. True, as she reminisces, my mother has related instances where her sister treated her unfairly, but this is true of all sibling relationships.

There isn’t a day when my mother and her sister don’t speak to each other. Despite their differences, they are very close. In my opinion, Ellen, who is 6 years older than I am, cannot bear to watch our mother age and this next step of assisted living is more of a problem for my sister than for my mother. I think she’s looking for any excuse to keep our mother away from this assisted living residence. Mom is on the fence about moving and my sister could easily dissuade her.

I’m terrified that this will happen and don’t know how we will deal with our mother continuing to live in her own home without adequate safety measures in place. How do I deal with my sister and get her to see that this isn’t about her, but about our mother’s best interests? Thanks.

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It is interesting that you are presenting the classic problem of an elderly parent living alone but with a twist. The twist is that she wants to move into an assisted living residence and where her sister lives as well. This should be relieving for you and your mother. She would have her own apartment in the assisted living residence, complete freedom to come and go, meals provided for her, a community to be part of and her sister for extra added company. In addition, you and she would not have to worry about her being isolated and far away from family. What is wrong with this picture?

Nothing is wrong with this picture. I agree with you that the major problem is your sister who seems, for some reason, to be resistant to the idea. In fact, my blind guess is that your mother is not on the fence about the move. Instead, she is hesitating because of wanting to please your sister. Remember, I don’t know this and am only venturing a guess.

It is not unusual that adult children can be the major obstacle to the kind of change that your mother wants. We can only speculate about why this happens and I can present a couple of theories:

1. Your sister might feel guilty about your mother moving into the residence. Already living far away, she may feel that she is not taking full responsibility for your mom and, therefore, may feel bad about feeling good about this.

2. As you point out, she may feel bad about  this proof of how your mother is aging. Denial is one way of avoiding facts that are too unpleasant to face.

3. Your sister may mistakenly believe that she has to think for your mother. Another common factor is that younger people believe that the elderly cannot think for themselves. The fact that your mother complains about her memory may be nothing more than the usual aging process where people do not think as fast as they used or recall things as quickly as they once did. If this is true then, what she is doing, unwittingly, is treating your mother as though she is a child.

Judging from the facts that you have presented here, your mother seems to think clearly. She has good reasons for wanting to move and knows what is best for her.

It may be that you, your sister and your mom all meet and discuss this as a group. After all, mom is not a child and can speak for herself. Perhaps if your sister hears from your mom right in front of all of you it will help her better understand that mom knows best. It might even be that more than one conference is needed and could include mom’s son in laws and her sister.

All of you must treat mom as the intelligent adult that she is.

Best of luck

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