Caregiver's Home Companion Free captioning phone for those with hearing loss.

Posted June 9, 2005

Ask An Expert

Caregiving Relationship: Aunt Interferes With My Care of Mom

Q. My problem is not my parents, who are 83 and 87. My Dad has Parkinson's disease, but does fairly well. I'm a full-time student, single mother and NOT wealthy (or even what I would call solvent.) My Aunt wants me to be at my parent's home all the time, drive them everywhere and not allow them to drive at all, cook all their meals so they don't burn the house down, etc.

I feel that if I take away ALL their independence, they will go downhill. My Mother has promised that she will ask for help if she needs it. She already asks me to drive her certain places, but feels comfortable driving to the closest store, the dentist, and her hair dresser. I take them to the doctor so I can understand what is going on. My older son and I go over there every day, except weekends sometimes, and help out with yard work, changing light bulbs, getting gas in the car, taking the trash out, etc. and whatever needs doing. Both parents are able to pay bills and manage their affairs.

I feel that I am right there IF they need me, but that I should let them "drive" their life until they feel they can't, or until there is a problem. My Aunt says they will both be killed in a fiery crash, that my father is starving to death, etc. (He gained four pounds in the last three months between doctor appointments). My Mother doesn't want my Aunt's meals.

How do I handle this problem? Is there an article or book I could show her about taking independence away being harmful? Thank you very much.

Gail L., Pikeville, North Carolina.

A. Your situation is not uncommon, and it crops up with many family situations. Caregiving is often an overwhelming responsibility. Even though you are not with your parents 24/7, you are certainly caring for them almost daily. If you feel that your parents are safe in their current environment, and are functioning well with your assistance on an as needed basis, then there is nothing wrong with the way you are handling the situation.

If it would make your aunt (or you) feel better, you might consider having a personal emergency response system (PERS) installed in the home. That way if your parents need your help, or the assistance of EMS, they simply push a button and talk to emergency professionals through the monitor system.

It sounds like your aunt is rather demanding of you at this point as it relates to your parents. My first question is: Has she offered to help with anything besides preparing meals? Is she able to go over and sit with them, or run errands for them? Does she fully understand the other demands on your life at this time? Regardless of the answers to these questions, I would simply keep my conversations with your aunt short and to the point. I would reassure her that everything is being taken care of, and that if she has any further concerns or questions, she should contact your parents directly.

It is important for seniors to maintain their independence and choice for as long as possible. As long as they are in a safe environment and are cognitively and physically able to function independently around the house, they should be allowed to do so. It doesn't matter how old we are -- if someone else does everything for us, then there is no challenge, growth or joy in life. Cognitive function is maintained when we use our brains for everyday tasks. Physical function is maintained when we have to get up and do things for ourselves.

If you feel your parents could use extra assistance, you might consider contacting your local Area Agency on Aging for tips, advice, and programs that may be helpful for you and for them. Non-medical home care agencies can provide errand running services, light housekeeping, light meal preparation, and other everyday tasks.

One final thought: The next time you accompany your parents to the doctor, you might ask him or her to give their opinion on your parents' ability to live independently, and then relay that information to your aunt. Hope that helps!

(This answer is provided by Valerie VanBooven, a registered nurse, professional geriatric care manager, author, and professional speaker. She is a leading expert on long-term care planning and crisis management. Valerie is president of Senior Care Solutions, a private geriatric care management practice in the St. Louis area. Her books include Aging Answers: Secrets to Successful Long-Term Care Planning, Caregiving, and Crisis Management and her website is She can be reached at

Return to Ask an Expert Questions List

Email or share this story Bookmark and Share

© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

Discount Prescription Card
Privacy Statement Contact Us Site Map Products & Services Our Partners Advertise
© Copyright 2003-2020. Pederson Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.