Mother in law doesn't seem motivated to get well after a total hip replacement!

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My husband and I have been helping his mother after she had a total hip replacement in early July. She has had mobility problems because of a bad hip for quite a while now, and the last couple of years were very bad. I was happy when she told us that she was having surgery, since it was obvious that she was not happy and having the bad hip was not a healthy situation for her, either.

While my husband and I were aware of her surgery, she did not let either of us know that she did not really have many people enlisted to help her afterwards, so it was a bit of a shock to find out that our involvement was going to be more than just a ride home from the hospital and a few errands here and there. We honestly had no idea what we were getting ourselves into after she got home. Since then, it's been daily visits for my husband and weekly visits for me. Prior to her coming home, we had to spend several days boxing up items in her home and cleaning up. She initially told my husband to "clear a path" for her in the home, but after seeing the conditions she was living in (borderline hoarding situation), it was clear that we couldn't just leave it that way and just push stuff aside. Her sister helped us a bit and cleaned out the fridge, which was packed with expired food. My MIL had probably not cooked a meal in the home in several years, and she had told us previously that she was eating out at least once a day, mostly due to her not being able to use her kitchen. We thought this was just mobility, but it was also due to all the stuff in the kitchen, which obscured the stove, sink, counters.

Her sister was helping initially, but apparently they had some sort of a fight, and her sister decided to no longer help her. I can't say I blame her because I know my MIL can be demanding, and she and her sister already have a strained relationship. A friend has been helping her with doctor's appointments, but my MIL claims that her friend is a bad driver and that they are nearly getting into accidents all the time, so she limits where she goes with this woman..

Fast forward to now, which is about 6 weeks after the surgery. Her house is fairly clean and relatively tidy, mostly because she can't buy anything else (most of her hoard was craft supplies and kitchen items), but there are signs of her not wanting to do anything but the bare minimum. She bags her trash, but expects her son to take it out. She's not getting her own mail (when he comes over she asks him to bring it in). She wants him to water her flowers (something she IS capable of doing and has done after surgery). He knows that and did refuse to water the plants because he felt she was avoiding doing anything for herself.

He has to clean her cats' litter boxes daily, as she supposedly hasn't been cleared to bend. She has 6 cats, which means the boxes HAVE to be scooped. Plus, the boxes are in her bedroom! We have to do her grocery shopping, as she was cleared to drive, but doesn't feel that she can do that yet. We also do her laundry, pick up prescriptions, etc. She asked me to wash her hair a couple weeks back, and that is where I drew the line.

The worst part is that there doesn't seem to be an end in sight. She seems fairly content having us do pretty much everything for her. She has admitted to not doing her physical therapy exercises (formal PT is over) anymore, and she is only walking around her very small home. She has yet to go for even a short walk down the block! My husband asked her about it, and she is afraid of falling if she walks and thinks walking around the home is "good enough".

She is only in her early 60s. I'm afraid she won't get any better, and then we're stuck taking care of someone forever. My husband is resentful of al the work she's been having him do and doesn't feel that his mother is really wanting to get better. I don't understand why someone would have the surgery and not want to do all they can to get well as quickly as possible!


I'm sorry but I can't get passed the part about her cluttered home. Why didn't your husband know her living conditions? It seems she's lonely.
When I had my hip replacement my family could not help me enough.It is so obvious you are not a close family and I feel sorry for this very lonely lady. My son would not have let my home get in that situation in the first place. She also sounds like she could be depressed. She will feel better soon, but this has been a major operation and she is feeling overwhelmed by the situation she is in.
Good points have already been brought up by the other two posters. Your MIL living conditions should not have been a surprise to either of you had you been involved with her life before the surgery... That said, perhaps your MIL is milking the situation because she is enjoying the attention (long neglected) of her son and you. Hire a caregiver. Hire someone to be her companion through your network or a place like Home Instead (we did this for mom). Where are your Mom's friends? How about taking a cooking class or some other class in the community? Joining a gym with a pool so she can exercise more easily? She likes crafts - so how about getting her involved in a local craft club in the area?

Be a FRIEND to your MIL and come alongside of her and try to understand her. You are judging her and this tells me that you do not have a good relationship with her - and this probably goes back many, many, many years. Forgive your MIL and find ways to love and serve her - while also setting clear boundaries.

By the way, find a new home for her multi-cat litter boxes. The fumes in her bedroom are clearly toxic and unhealthy.
As far as the condition of the home is concerned, she had kept people out of the home for a while saying that it was "a mess", which we interpreted as somewhat cluttered or just a little out of order. She used to be an excellent housekeeper. I believe she is lonely, too, but it's one thing to ask to talk or visit, and quite another to run someone around in your stead. I'd much rather have her call and say that's she going stir crazy and wants to go to a restaurant or somewhere else than to have her cooped up in her house all the time. Most of the time she's sitting on the couch or laying in bed. She mentioned she was going to try doing her own grocery shopping (my husband was going to drop her off at the store), but she was going to use the motorized cart. It just didn't seem "right" (i.e. what her doctor would want her to do).

Honestly, I feel sorry for her, too. I really feel that she likes the attention and is trying to get him to do things she is capable of doing herself. She has been somewhat manipulative over the years, but due to the surgery she has her son where she wants him now. He is feeling burned out. :-(

She is a compulsive shopper. We knew this but we had no idea that it had gotten so bad. If we were uncaring, why would we help? It was shocking to my husband, and after being pushed away for so long, we were in the thick of it. We stepped up to the plate even though she NEVER discussed with us that she expected her son to be the primary (and basically ONLY) caregiver. She has 4 brothers and sisters and none of them are currently helping her. We feel "thrown under the bus".

My feelings are this was forced on us, and we are trying the best we can, but it is not easy. I'm not sure it's going to get better, as it seems like she is content to sit on the couch instead of working her new hip. I get along with her quite well and it was sad to see her condition decline and now it's disconcerting to see her okay with the status quo.
After reading this I thank God for my loving family
My mother had a hip replacement last September, and she was released to a skilled nursing facility for physical therapy afterwards - was this not the case for your MIL? It is true that they can NOT bend past 90 degrees for several weeks/months after surgery - it can pop the new joint out of place, so don't think she just doesn't "want" to scoop the litter box - she CAN'T. Just sitting in chairs has to be done in a way that they don't "flop down" into the chair & damage the new hip joint. My mother found that out the hard way because she refused to follow directions, and wound up having the new hip dislocate. My mother also refused to do the prescribed exercises her PT and orthopedic surgeon wanted her to do - as a result she is now virtually immobile. Your MIL needs a wake-up call where that is concerned - she is too young to give up. You mentioned she is only in her early 60's - obviously too young for Medicare just yet. Is she still working? It appears you and your husband must not have a very close relationship with his Mom, but she DOES need help right now, and encouragement to follow her exercises so she can strengthen the muscles surrounding her hip. Are there any other children that can help out, or is your husband an only child? Your MIL is not getting any younger, and is only going to require more help down the road if she doesn't do her exercises. It also sounds like there is a possibility that she is depressed - has that been addressed with her doctor?
I understand that she can't bend past 90 degrees at this point, at least until she is cleared by her doctor. I will suggest moving the cat boxes from outside her room, but there are not many places to put them in her house. There is also concern that the visiting nurse (or any other staff) will put two and two together that my MIL has 6 cats (limit is 3 in her city). She would likely go completely off the deep end if the cats got taken away. We can't put the boxes in the basement(which would be the ideal place in my opinion) because the cats were going out of the box when they were down there. They've had accidents all over the house, which we've cleaned up, but it's a never ending battle. She probably shouldn't have animals, but they are important to her, and I understand that.

She is not working, as she was laid off (forced retirement) last year. She is unemployment right now and had a severance package and has a pension from her former employer. She has mentioned possibly going back to work after recovery, but I'm not sure that it's realistic. She would have to make a full recovery and find the perfect position. She does need the extra income, so I am hoping she uses wanting to go back to work as motivation.

I also think she's depressed, and I think that's what led to the clutter/hoarding situation. She is on antidepressants as far as I know (unless she has stopped taking them), but perhaps a review is in order, especially if she doesn't get any better.

There have been some good suggestions, such as the water exercise class and craft club. She's more likely to be interested in the latter.

I have offered my husband more help, but he is resistant to having me help her more often (i.e. do cat boxes some nights instead of him, etc.) He doesn't want me to be involved at all, but I don't think that's fair. He's an only child and all the other relatives have scattered.

I don't have a bad relationship with my MIL, but I wonder where the vibrant, fun woman I used to know has gone. My husband says the same thing. The house used to be immaculate. Now it's turned into a stash of boxes and the cats' toilet. She's been through a lot in the last few years, so I'm sympathetic, but in the end, you have to help yourself. There is only so much family and friends can do. She is still young, but she is acting as if she were 20 years older. She's always acted a little older than her chronological age in my opinion, but she does seem to have just given up. My husband is afraid if he does too much for her that she will come to depend on him for everything.
I agree with you that she has probably stopped taking her anxiety meds. You need to check on that. I think if she gets her meds straightened out, it should straighten her out.
Yes - there is a definite reason why she has gone from being an immaculate housekeeper to the polar opposite, and I think you should follow up with her on that - suggest she talk to her doctor and reevaluate antidepressant dosages if she is still taking them...if not, gently nudge her back in that direction. Maybe have a heart-to-heart with her and let her know that you are both concerned and have noticed a huge change in her, and only want what is best for her. I feel for you - it's a tough situation to be in - your husband should accept your willingness to help..after all, she is your mother-in-law - when you married him, you married his family as well :)
I am your MIL's age and I have had both hips replaced. Prior to the surgeries I was in so much pain that I could not keep my house clean. I did not want family and friends to see the mess, I pushed away people who could have been helpful to me. So to those who felt the need to comment on the closeness of the family - don't judge, you haven't lived the situation. I can also speak to the fear of falling - it is very real. I carry my cell phone with me whenever I am outside as a way of ensuring I could get assistance if needed. I live in the north so I'm also very cautious during winter weather, I don't put myself in situations that might require rescue (either walking or driving). I have made lots of adaptations to make my life more independent. I have reachers so I can pick things up off the floor without violating the 90 degree rule. I have a shower chair and a hand held shower attachment so I can bathe and wash my hair myself. For several months after my surgeries I did not bathe when I was home alone because of safety concerns so that meant waiting until my husband was home. I also have a long handled shoe horn. As far as your MIL's cat litter scooping needs - I think a long handled shoe horn and duct tape could be used to to make a long handled litter scoop that she could use to clean the litter boxes herself. Perhaps her love of her cats can help motivate her to action. Dependency is tough to deal with. Doing things for people that they can do themselves ultimately isn't helpful especially when it slows recovery.. It is difficult to sort through the dependency - what is motivated by fear and safety concerns and the dependency that is motivated by enjoying being taken care of. The visiting nurses could be a great resource for you and your MIL in helping her move forward, they might also be able to do a depression screen.

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