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Posted: May 10, 2004

Practical Caregiving

"All in the Family" Never Had Such a Meaning!

All Marianne and Karen have wanted to do is take care of their mothers who suffer from Alzheimer?s disease and dementia, respectively. Unfortunately, their families are nipping at their ankles with every move they make ? and they don?t know what to do.

For Marianne, it is a problem she faces with her mother?s belongings and sorting through them while her mother is still alive ? a very tough and emotional assignment for Marianne.

For Karen, it?s a question of money as she cares for her mother in her home. In her mind, her sisters appear poised to sue her if she uses any of her mother?s funds to offset the cost of caring for her mother.

Dealing with family in situations like this can be a dirty, thankless situation. On one hand, we simply weren?t taught to deal with family acting like vultures; on the other hand, we all had better be prepared for this ugly side of family relationships. Sometimes just being a caregiver makes you a target.

Let?s learn more about Marianne?s and Karen?s situations and see if I can help.


Dear Jean:

I?ve been taking care of my mother for several months. She has heart problems along with Alzheimer?s disease. Dad decided to ?clean the house out? and get rid of Mom?s things that she doesn?t use now. I don?t feel I am ready to go through any of Mom?s things because she is still alive. My mother's side of the family isn't speaking to me. I think they have the impression that I am going to take everything for myself and leave them out of it. They haven?t been here for a month. What a dysfunctional mess! I talked to the hospice nurse about it when she came over -- she said she sees this stuff in families all the time. Have you seen families act like this?

Marianne, Tempe, Arizona

Dear Marianne:

If it bothers you so much to go through your mother?s things now, why don?t you store some of her things in your attic, basement or garage? You can go through them later. I don?t know what stage of Alzheimer?s your mother is in, but she may not recognize most of her things now anyway and won?t miss any of it.

When you can calmly talk to your mother?s family, why don?t you call them and tell them that you want them to have some of your mother?s things. Ask them to come over and take what they want, or set aside certain items you think are appropriate for them. This can be an ugly situation, but it happens. Sometimes this approach helps bridge the problems they are having (and remember, it is their problem, not yours). Communication is so very important in a family. Simply talking to each other and explaining things can sometimes avoid a lot of the bad feelings people develop.

My father decided to do the same thing as your father, so, in my case, I called my sisters and they each took what they wanted. Mom didn?t recognize most things, but one time she let us know that something was hers. Of course, we let her keep it. Mom enjoyed the activity and watching us go through everything. Going through things over and over seems to be something a person with Alzheimer?s enjoys, and your mother may enjoy your relatives looking through everything. If your mother?s Alzheimer?s isn?t very advanced, have your relatives go through things without your Mother?s knowledge.

And yes, I have seen hurt feelings in a lot of families. Everyone gets upset, and little things that normally would not upset anyone seem to become huge mountains. Try to stay calm and stay out of fights. If you do get into a fight, it may take years to overcome the hurt feelings all around. J.D.


Dear Jean:

I am a caregiver to my mother who has dementia. Her memory is slowly fading. My mother called me one day out of the blue and asked if she could come live with me and my family. She gave us a bit of money towards the house and that is all that she has paid, except for a few things at the grocery store. Everything else except her medical bills is compiled in that one-time dollar amount. The price of everything is going up, and I am finding it difficult to pay for my family and her needs. My mother and I are also afraid that if she did contribute any more money, my sisters would one day take me to court for whatever reason they can think of. She knows that I am struggling. There is more to this but I think that you have the gist of it. I don't know what to do anymore. My husband and children are also at wits end because they see what I have to go through in an entire day, from sunup to sundown, and they see the stress that I am under. With my mother, there are six of us. Any suggestions would be most helpful.

Karen, Duluth, Minnesota

Dear Karen:

I can't stress how important it is for you to talk to a lawyer sooner rather than later. If your mother has the finances available, she should pay for rent, food, clothing and other expenses needed for her care, as well as the medical bills. A lawyer ? especially an elder-law attorney who specializes in these arrangements -- will be able to set that up so your sisters can?t make you pay back that money after your mother dies.

If she can't pay for those things, then any long-term care insurance she might have purchased, or a government program, could contribute. A nursing home charges for those things, and she wouldn?t get the loving care she receives from you and your family. If you can?t afford a lawyer, there are legal aid offices in cities that will help people at a reduced rate or for free. They are specialists at what they do and can give you the advice and help you need. Even paying for a lawyer might be cheaper than paying for all your mother needs! J.D.

© 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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