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Posted: March 01, 2004

Practical Caregiving

Is There Only One "Right" Decision in Caregiving?
Usually Not.

Making the "right" decision, let alone any decision, can leave us quarreling with ourselves. Is this best? Are there alternatives? What if I'm wrong? When these decisions relate to the future care of a parent, the pressure to make the right decision intensifies. The stakes are high, but as Arlene in New Mexico finds out in this column, there may be more than one way to look at a critical issue, and in her case, uprooting her family may not be the only "right" decision.

Pam's letter also popped up in my e-mailbag and poses a question of how much information to share with siblings if you're the primary caregiver for a parent. Check out my exchange with Pam below.


Dear Jean:

I am trying to arrive at a decision regarding my mother who needs help. She can take care of herself day to day, but one of my sisters has to stay with her on weekends to make sure she has enough food and that bills are being paid, etc. My sisters have been making arrangements for my mother to enter an assisted living facility within a year, and I am torn.

I have always felt it would be ideal if I could take care of my parents when their time came. My father suddenly died a couple years ago. It seems my mother's time has come. Death is not imminent but she is in need of real care.

I feel a very strong desire to take care of mother, but it would mean moving my family to a different state to live with her. Fortunately, my mother is able to afford a top-notch assisted living facility, but in my heart I want to be able to take care of her in her own home.

I welcome your thoughts and feedback. Arlene, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Dear Arlene:

I understand your strong desires to take care of your mother because I had those feelings myself. However, I didn't have a family in my home to consider. Your family must come first.

A child is morally obligated to make sure their parents are well taken care of, but that does not mean that the child has to physically take care of them. Let's look at a couple options.

First, try to determine the real reason behind you considering a move to a different state to take care of you mother. Is it an emotional desire because you miss your mother and you don't want her to die, or is it because death might be the best choice for your mother at this point in her life? Quite often we have that desire because of our own feelings rather than actually trying to help our parent. Moving into an assisted living facility where your sisters and your mother's friends can visit her might be the best option for your mother.

Here is another option: Instead of moving your family to your mother's home, can you consider having your mother move in with you? You have your job, and your family is settled in today's life in your community. If you aren't sure it would work, why don't you ask your mother to visit you for a couple of weeks? That way she can adjust to being with you, and your family can get better acquainted with her. Then have her come back again few weeks later.

After that second visit, you and your family can decide if you think it will work for her to move in with you. Having Mom and Dad around when my kids were growing up was a tremendously good influence on my kids. They are not afraid of "old" people, and today they have compassion for people that many of their friends don't have.

If your mother does move in with you, be sure to explain to your children (again and again) that their Grandma really doesn't want to get old. She would like to continue being young the rest of her life but she doesn't have that choice. Not being able to do things the way she used to, or think the way she used to, is just part of her naturally getting old and having health problems.


Dear Jean,
Mom has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and she is also having strokes. I have two brothers who live over an hour away. The changes I see in Mom are mostly gradual and I'm not afraid of it. I only feel bad for her having to go through it. My problem is that I'm not sure how much to say to my brothers sometimes because one day it will seem that Mom may not be with us long and then a day later she will rally and seem better. Pam, Hood River, Oregon

Dear Pam:

You should be as honest with your family as possible. Explain to them what you just explained to me. Always phone them to let them know what the doctor says, and ask them to talk occasionally with the doctor.

People tend to get upset easily when their parent might not live much longer. When they don't see their mother or father very often, they have trouble accepting what is happening once they realize it. Sometimes they might even think you are exaggerating and that things aren't the way you are telling them they are.

You want to make it as easy for them as possible, and you don't want to do anything to jeopardize your relationship with them. Try to think of how you would feel if you lived far away and it was your brother or sister who was taking care of your parents. How would you want them to treat you and keep you in the loop? I know you would want to them to be honest with you. I know you would want to talk to the doctor yourself. In fact, that's what we all would want. Good luck.

© 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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