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Posted: June 21, 2004

Practical Caregiving

Denial and Abuse Are Not Caregiving Attributes!

Siblings can be a headache or a blessing when it comes to caring for our elderly parents. For Addie and Helen, their siblings are one big perplexing headache in need of some world-class Aspirin.

But in Addie?s case, how do you find relief from the fact that your siblings deny a parent?s problems by avoiding their parents!

And for Helen, the situation sounds downright dangerous as her sister has been abusive to her mother and Helen is very worried.

Let?s hear their stories as I try to help. And don?t forget to send your questions, comments and issues to my e-mailbag at


Dear Jean:

Mother fell and broke her hip. She is now at home after a short stay in the hospital and skilled facility. My sister lives an hour away from Mom and was able to get her house in order before she came home. I live several hours away but went down for a few days when she got out of the assisted living facility.

My question: My brother lives in another state and doesn't visit Mom. He hasn't seen with his own eyes how bad she is. I have asked him to at least call her once a week because she always sounds more cheerful after she talks to him. I have also asked both my sister and brother to help financially. They say they will do what they can, but never seem to get around to it. Do you have any suggestions on how I can let them know she really needs the help? She gets depressed due to the money worries.

I'm lucky enough to be married to a wonderful man. He has no problem with the help we give Mom. He does get upset at my siblings due to the lack of support they give. I don't blame him for this. I just wish my brother and sister would make a consistent effort to help.

Any suggestions would be helpful.

Addie H., Columbus, Ohio

Dear Addie:

I wish I had the answers on how to motivate all the children to help in the care of their parents ? both physically and financially.

I've done a lot of reading on that subject and everything I?ve read says that it is usually up to one child in the family. The other children don?t seem to think the care of their parents is their responsibility. Perhaps it is because they are having a problem facing their parents as they go downhill. All their lives, their parents have been there for them, and it's hard to face the fact that their parent?s lives are coming to an end, even if it is 10 or 20 years away. Other times they might not have the extra money to help. However, this seems all too frequently to happen when there is no apparent reason.

The best thing you can do is be honest with your brother and sister. Don't soften things at all, but be sure to tell them the good things that are happening with your mother also.

Send them an accounting of what her income and expenses are, and include the expenses you have laid out for her. Send copies of her bills and payments as well as what you pay. Make sure to clearly mark everything so they understand what you are paying.

Try calling or writing them on a regular basis to ask for a certain amount of money for medicine or something else your mother needs. If are willing to pay for something, be sure to send them a copy of the receipt for what it was spent on even if they pay with a credit card. They might respond if you give them a specific amount for a certain thing.

Also, is it possible to send your brother current pictures of your Mom? Telling him her condition is good, but you know the old saying -- a picture is worth a thousand words. He may not fully understand how bad her health is without seeing the evidence with his own eyes.

Whatever you do, try not to get overly upset or bitter because they are not helping. The cause may be emotional and it may be that they cannot physically or financially help. Whatever the reason, they are unable to help and you are able -? and just the fact that you are able and do help is a blessing.

It sounds like you have a wonderful husband. Not all husbands are so kind and understanding. Be sure to let him know how much you appreciate him.


Dear Jean:

Several years ago, my sister moved in with my Mom and basically lived off Mom?s finances. Mom now needs someone to take care of her and my sister does absolutely nothing to help. To be quite honest, I am afraid there are times she mistreats Mom.

Mom?s finances are about gone, and when I asked my sister to pay her share she screamed and cursed at me and slammed door, and never paid a cent. My Mom felt sorry for her and hesitated to throw her out. How can an 85-year-old woman throw someone out without fear and trepidation? This sister is mean to her at times, and kicked her once also so hard that my mom limped for weeks (this was when my dad was still living). If it had not been for my dad telling me why my Mom was limping, I probably would have never found out! Now these two are alone in that house!

How can I let Mom live that way?

Helen T., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Dear Helen:

My answer and advice is short and direct:

You can?t let your Mom live that way. Period! You must do something NOW.

Your mother might be afraid to ask for help, but you are the one who should intervene. If you can?t get anything done yourself, you should call your local area elder abuse organization. If you don?t know that number, call the Eldercare Locator (9:00 am to 8:00 pm M-F) at 800-677-1116. The website is: Click on the ?Help for Elders and Families? link and then click on the link in the ?Who to Call? section.

Don?t wait until something happens. You could never forgive yourself if you did.

© 2004 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.

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