Your mother lives in Arizona, you live in Maryland. Think it’s hard to look after her? It is true you can take any problem and double it for an elderly mother who lives far away.
First of all, she can tell you lies. Well, okay, that was harsh. Let me rephrase that. She can say, “Oh yes, I’m fine. I went out to eat with friends yesterday. Today I cooked a nice meal for myself. No, I’m fine. I don’t need anything.”
Only when you go there on your twice yearly visit do you discover that your mother has become rather famous in her neighborhood for leaving home without her clothes on. Only when you go to her house, do you realize that she clearly has not cleaned up since your last visit.
There you are in the house of a person who is clearly not managing any more. What do you do? Move in? Move her out? What?
Well, assess the situation. There’s a few little tests you can run to see what’s really going on.
Run your finger along the stove top. If it comes away dusty, cooking is not happening. Your parent may not be really taking a shower. Check to see if the floor of the shower is wet and the towels are damp. It is just a way of seeing how much has changed for your parent. Fewer showers usually means a lower coping mechanism.
Look in the kitchen cupboard. What kind of supplies do you find there? A balanced array of canned and packaged goods would be a good sign.
Look in the fridge. Nearly empty, with a few leftovers in cardboard containers? Uh Oh. Some withered vegetables in the veggie bin? Ten gallons of chocolate ice cream in the freezer? That’s the clincher. This person isn’t managing.
1. Talk to her friends and neighbors. See if they will or can keep a helpful eye out, and call you if there’s a problem;
2. Find a case manager to watch out for your mother — a bit expensive but worth it;
3. Hire a worker to come in on a regular basis for specific duties;
4. Get meals-on-wheels delivered.
5. Call up the local senior services to get a full home assessment.
There are a lot of things to do and a lot of resources available, though probably never enough. The one big barrier than stops people from getting the help they need is their own unwillingness and a family member unable to confront this. To stand up to a difficult parent requires courage, but it has to be done.
Do you ever have to move her to Maryland? Yes. No. Maybe. Basically, you can safely assume that if one system is failing, so are all the rest. So, if your mother no longer eats and shops very well, then probably her social life is also falling apart. She may not spend time with her friends any more. This may tell you if a move is needed.
As long as you stay far apart, your burdens as a caregiver will increase. Because you will worry, maybe a lot. Because you might feel guilty. Because you might resent, inevitably, the steady erosion of what used to be your life.
Most of the issues that trouble family members are to do with feelings. The issues that most affects your elderly parent are survival issues. You need someone who can assess more dispassionately what is really needed. Contact a social worker through the local senior services and take it from there.
The golden rule still so often applies. People do unto their elder as they hope one day someone will do unto them — try to let them have their own life. Or at least, the maximum life they are able to manage safely.