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Posted January 31, 2006

Ask An Expert

Elderly Behavior: When the Act of Caring is Nearly Beyond You

Q. My mom can barely stand and walk by herself. She cannot be left alone. Going to the bathroom is out of the question; she doesn't know how. It's taking a toll on my family. Placing her in a nursing home is a hard decision. What can I do?

Domenica I., Old Bridge, New Jersey

A. I'd like to compliment you on the love and care you're obviously giving your mother. It sounds like this is a 24-hour a day commitment to her well-being, and that's a difficult job under the best circumstances.

While your mother has obvious needs, it's important that you also consider your own needs and the needs (and health) of the other family members who are helping to care for her. If you are exhausted, you won't be any good to anyone, including yourself.
As a first step, I suggest you contact your local Area on Aging and ask them about local in-home care and respite services. Someone coming regularly to give you a hand and a well-deserved break may make all the difference. Many of these services are free or low-cost, depending on your financial circumstances.
Next, if you haven't done so already, do visit two or three nearby nursing homes. You may find that what you see is not nearly as bad as you expected. If you find one that is acceptable, you might consider having your mother try a short respite stay for a week or two. Sometimes this is all a family needs to get refreshed and resume care at home again.
And finally, get in touch with the closest Alzheimer's Association office for referral to a nearby support group and expert information about other resources. Other people who attend these groups have walked the same path, and they can be a wealth of information.

This answer is provided by Molly Shomer, MSSW, LMSW, a family caregiving specialist and licensed geriatric care manager. Molly, a nationally recognized expert on eldercare issues, is the author of The Insider's Guide to Assisted Living. Her website is, and she can be reached at


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