12 Replies Latest reply on Jan 4, 2011 11:28 AM by hawk93

    Feeling Guilty Over Aging Parents

      Like so many people, my parents have gotten pretty creaky (scooter to get around, Alzheimers, problematic finances, etc. etc.). Problem is, they're 3000 miles away (and I'm dirt poor). My younger brother gets all the care duty, and it's running him ragged. All I get is GUILT. How can I be helpful  ...without actually being there?
        • Re: Feeling Guilty Over Aging Parents
          Hello Chuck,
          Like you, I live a long distance from my elderly mother.  I know you've asked the question, "how can you be helpful?"
          But first, I'd like to suggest that you and your brother, together, take a step back.  Both your parents are aging and your brother is running ragged.

          If I were in your shoes, I would reach out to a geriatric care manager.  I know you say money is tight, but there are Area Agencies on Aging in all areas of the country, in which you can get telephone counseling and also modestly priced geriatric care management services.  (To find one in your area or your parent's area, go to Eldercare.gov)

          Such a professional can assess your parents' situation and needs, and make recommendations.  From that point, you and your brother can decide what care you can provide and what you'll need outside assistance for.  This is also a wonderful way to be proactive and plan ahead for your parents' needs, heading off unnecessary crises.

          Once you have that assessment done and take on a proactive view of your parents' aging,
           there several things you can do from afar to support your brother in caregiving.  You can be a sounding board and support over the phone for your brother, and your parents.  You can suggest that he seek out services in his community (again through Area Agency on Aging), his place of worship, through his employer.  And, encourage him to get regular respite.

          I hope these ideas helped.  I wish we could get your message out there....even though you live 3,000 miles away and lack financial resources, you want to help!  Oh, that all long distance family members had your loving perspective.

          Dale Carter, caregiver and founder of TransitionAgingParents.com

            • Re: Feeling Guilty Over Aging Parents

              I think to communicate with your brother on what he wants you to do to help.  Let your fingers do the walking, there are many state programs that help out seniors.  If you can help set up some of those programs for your parents, that may take some of the stress off your brother. Dont know what state they are in, but you can start by calling the chamber of commernce or the state. Nebraska has something called enoa Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging that has wonderful program information respite care for seniors and so on. 

              • Re: Feeling Guilty Over Aging Parents

                It is unusual for a sibling who lives at a distance to feel guilty about this. I have to give you lots of credit for that. From my own experience and most of the stories I've heard, distant siblings are just relieved to have the excuse.

                Believe what your brother is telling you. This can be a horrible life-destroying ordeal. He probably needs your help even more than he says.

                There are no good solutions to this kind of problem, when money is short. But you took at step in the right direction by feeling guilty. That means you have a sense of responsibility and compassion.

                Things might get tense between you and your brother. It's easy to get into a big fight and use that as an excuse to write him off. Don't do that.

                If your brother were not there helping your parents, what would you have done? That is a question that should always be asked.

                • Re: Feeling Guilty Over Aging Parents
                  Dale - thanks for your advise. I too live 2500 miles away from my sister who is living with my 85 year old mother. My sis works 70 hours a week, has two kids and lost her husband suddenly last year. To say it's been difficult for her would be a gross understatement. Being far away has left me feeling more than guilty, but helpless. I am definitely going to check out the resources you mentioned. Thanks for the information.
                    • Re: Feeling Guilty Over Aging Parents
                      I have elderly parents living by themselves approx 6 hours drive away. I have found calling them on the phone and being a sounding board and just being someone to talk to on a regular basis helps them. They know when you will be calling and look forward to that phone call and someone to talk to. I have also found that you can often help out by making phone calls for them to get information on needs they have (repair work, etc.) This can be done from anywhere thanks to the bountiful information on the internet. My mother, in particular, hates to call people on the phone and all of my siblings live out of state from her so there is no one in the family available to help. Helping with looking up information and phone calls would help relieve other caregivers in the family of at least some of the work.
                        • Re: Feeling Guilty Over Aging Parents
                          My mom lived with us for 10 years , it was difficult at times   She then lived in her own apartment for five years and in assisted living for 8 years, she has been in skilled nursing for the last 3 years.

                          She was very independent after my father died but it required a true medical crisis, at the age of 90, that forced her into assisted living even though we attempted to get her into housing a year or two before it occurred.  The same occurred for my in-laws whose house gradually became too big for them to care for inconvenient for them as they developed more infirmities.   Even when they went to live in assisted living there was a need to visit frequently to be sure they were following doctors orders etc.

                          My wife and I were the family members who decided to stay in town and as the result we became our parents immediate responders. At times it was very hard on our relationship but it is part of life that is a less common experience  but now brings up the question since many families have scattered far from their parents to make a living or pursue their dreams .
                            • Re: Feeling Guilty Over Aging Parents

                              We just bought a bigger house and moved my 90 year-old Dad in after he lived two years in assisted living. He has been here a month and it is a big adjustment. I am pretty much babysitting, cooking, doing laundry, and taking care of him 24/7. He does not have Alzheimer's, but had a very major stroke two years ago. He only talks about being in WWII and living on the farm when he was a kid. He is aware of things going on around him, but gets confused a lot. He can't remember the names of things and that is frustating for him although he had therapy for two years. He is as good as he is going to get but still keeps talking about when he gets better.

                              My problem is I feel resentful having him here and hearing the same stories over and over. He always complains about some health issue (itchy scalp or skin, constipation) and we take care of those problems, but he forgets that we did and starts complaining again. I do have a husband who is not home a lot but does pitch in when he can. My 20 year-old college student daughter lives at home but is busy and really hates having to help with Grandpa. She does help though but I don't feel I should count on her - she needs to live her life. He has a home-health aid three days a week to shower him and she is wonderful.

                              As you can tell, I am frustrated, feeling guilty, and wishing he were back in assisted living where I visited him at my convenience and had others doing all the work I am now doing. Assisted living got expensive ($4500 a month), and even though he does have the money, he may need it in the future for medical bills, etc. His social security checks are helping us out, but we are wondering if it is worth it to have him here.

                              I would appreciate any advice. I am almost 60 and did not foresee this as part of my life. I am an only child and my mother is gone. Luckily I work at home, but am so busy with Dad that I have little or no time to put into my job. That is not a good thing. I have no social life and can't work on my art career or spend any time with my daughter, other kids, or my granddaughter. HELP!

                                • Re: Feeling Guilty Over Aging Parents


                                  I feel your pain!  My mother-in-law lives with us and she is 86.  She has lived with us for that past 8 years and every year her health gets a bit worse.  Although not as bad as your father,  she does show the classic signs of dementia,  can't remember conversations she had 2 minutes ago, constantly talks of the past and of people we have never met.   Forgets the names of friends that she has known for many years.   On top of that she has high cholesterol, colitis and has lost sight in her left eye.  She also has little or no sense of smell and has become a sugarholic!  Loves her sweets.  It is very trying on my wife having to take care of her plus our house sometimes smells like a nursing home because she has become incontinent and wears depends but doesn't always put them in the outside garbage can.  Her sense of smell is pretty much gone so she doesn't smell it at all.  We have to tell her to take a shower because she smells of urine at times.   I keep telling my wife that there's saint hood after this!  LOL. 

                                  We know it can be tough on us being the "sandwich generation" having to take care of elderly parents and raising a family of our own.  It can be a bit overwhelming at times too!  It's hard seeing your parents health fail them and you feel guilty about wishing that you hadn't taken on this responsibility or hoping that you parent would pass on  before it gets any worse for them or for you.  My advice is to see if there is any senior or elder care in you community that may be able to help in some way, do the best you can and do a lot of praying for strength, patience and compassion for you too may some day be in his shoes!  Good luck and just try to do the best you can and above all take care of yourself.  You need "me" time as well!

                                  Take care and God Bless!

                          • Re: Feeling Guilty Over Aging Parents

                            I agree completely! 

                            My 86-year old mother refuses to leave her home despite a variety of health problems.  I was concerned because I live about 2 hours away, and over the past few years she has lost all friends through their deaths or moving away to be with family.  The professional caregiving service has become an important part of mom's care.  We are using the companion option and the caregiving companion comes in every 2 weeks for an afternoon of social activites that get mom out of the house.  She is now able to get to parts of town she couldn't find or that have traffic that is too dangerous.  She goes out to eat and to movies.  Last fall she even requested a visit to the circus and had an entertaining afternoon reflecting on how the circus was so different when she was younger.

                            We felt by beginning with the companion service, transitioning to more care would be an easier adjustment when it became necessary. We also have the option of scheduling more social visits or even adding in a doctor's visit when I can't accompany mom.  The caregiver goes in with her and takes notes so we all know what the doctor said.

                            I have felt less overwhelmed since we began in August 09.  Now I know there is a backup for what I am unable to do.

                          • Re: Feeling Guilty Over Aging Parents

                            Have you talked to your parents?  They may be creaky but they are still people and deserve to have some say in their future.  Speaking as an aging parent ( age 85)  I would appreciate more conversation with my children about my needs now and in the future.

                            Of course, there has to be a balance between what your parents want and what you can do.  But first and foremost they must be treated as individuals not as a problem.

                            • Re: Feeling Guilty Over Aging Parents
                              This is a great topic that I've also been grappling with.  My older sister, a hospice nurse for many years until she recently retired, moved near my aging parents about 10 years ago.  My father passed away soon after and my mother was fine for a while but had a stroke two years ago and is suffering from Alzheimer's.  I also feel guilty and want to help but in my case, my sister, doesn't seem to want help, when I ask.  I have asked myself what I would do if she were not there but it would be bring my Mom where I am 1000 miles away and that isn't practical given all the set up my sister has done to find a suitable nursing home, etc.

                              I have felt in the past that I've been left out of decisions about my mother's care more than I would like.  My sister is her executor, has Power of Attorney, etc., and seems to prefer that, if she has to have the responsibility of all the care, she be able to handle it herself and not have to answer to anyone.  I have discussed this with her and asked if I could be a part of decisions about where my Mom goes, (she recently moved to a new facility) and I feel almost as thought I don't have the right to ask for that since I can't help more due to the distance.  I am still working on communicating this well to my sister because I am so grateful, of course, for all that she does.  I would have made other decisions probably, like having her stay in her home with nursing staff, but, at this point the new facility may be the best situation for my Mom.  It does put strain on my relationship with my sister and I don't want that.  
                               It's very sad thinking that the end of your life comes to this- nursing home existence.  A therapist pointed out to me that Alzheimer's patients my  not have this same experience since their short term memory does not function like ours.  That made me feel a little better but my Mom still remembers us and she was always so kind to me.. I hate hearing that she's very unhappy where she is (the last place) even though I know it's a pretty good assisted living place as they go.   Sorry for rambling . .  that's where most of my guilt lies, is my mother enjoying the end of her life as much as possible?  How responsible am I for that?
                                • Re: Feeling Guilty Over Aging Parents
                                  Just an aside to something mentioned by inanna40:

                                  If an elderly parent with advanced Alzheimers complains, as always take them seriously, but don't take them TOO seriously. Advanced Alzheimers patients often get "testy" no matter what; they dislike pretty much everything, and they insult most folks within earshot. You can think you're conversing with a beloved parent but actually be conversing with the disease instead. It's especially hard to get an accurate sense of what's really going on over the phone. Folks that drift in and out may only call you when they're "in", and they may be able to successfully disguise their emotions during short phone conversations. Also remember that advanced Alzheimers can progress pretty quickly, so a parent that was mostly lucid just six months ago may be disconnected from reality much of the time now. There are plenty of problems already - don't create yet another one by letting Alzheimers knot or even destroy your relationships with either your parents or your siblings.