How can I help my father defend himself against unwanted interference by an "overly controlling" family member?

Basic problem is my brother's overly controlling wife (a former nurse), who thinks she knows what's best for everyone If you do not agree with her, in her mind it is proof of your (and my father's) incompetence. Her most used words are "you need to..." "he needs to.....". My brother has been brain-washed to believe whatever she says (and keep his mouth shut so as not to anger her), so there will be no help there.

My father had to be hospitalized for a short while for a mild heart attack. He was glad of my brother's and his wife's help for the short time he needed a bit of help to recuperate, but now they will not "stand down" and respect his wishes for privacy between patient and doctor. My fathers wishes for privacy are being interpreted by these family members as unacceptable (since he does not speak nurse-doctor medical lingo, that means he is incapable of communicating directly with a doctor). They equate his wishes for autonomy and no meddlling with evidence of incompetency.

These family members are HIGHLY JUDGEMENTAL. If someone does not have their lives ordered EXACTLY as they do, they are quite verbal about declaring that the the person is obviously deranged or incompetent (this applies to me, their daughter, their friends, and, unfortunately for him, my father).

My concern is that they will try to have my father declared incompetent so they can "properly care for him", as THEY see fit. My father is NOT incompetent! His house is immaculate (but they saw he saved ONE bag of plastic grocery store bags to use for trash---that makes him a hoarder!) They say "he NEEDS to stop driving"---but he has never had a problem driving! His car is immaculate and has no scratches or dents. I ride with him and he does great--no weaving, no "close calls". Being 87 does not automatically mean you are incompetent ; having 1 mild heart attack does not make you incapable!

They have expressed their intent to control him (to me) and I have tried to warn him to watch his back, but he has NO IDEA of what they are talking about behind his back.

I am not crazy in knowing that he is quite capable of taking care of himself ("despite" being 87)---I visit and stay in his house for 2-3 days each month and directly se how capable he is!

In their eyes, they think they are being good family members and stepping up to help the poor helpless&incompetent 87 yr old father--and that he is GOING to take their help and meddling no matter what he wishes!


Answers 1 to 9 of 9
I have had the same struggle going on in my family to a lesser extent. After my father's passing my sister kept pushing my mother toward assisted living (although she was still driving, taking care of herself and not rich) because her sister-in-law had done that to her alz. mother who really needed it. My brother tried to force her to move next door to him (although he does NOTHING to help her now). What I did was resist by delaying, spending time with my mother - like spending a week with her or taking her places, and making sure my name was included on her bank accounts. My sister had her power of attorney which we set up a long time ago; that would be hard to change now, but I would suggest getting your father to give you power of attorney. Go behind your brother's back if you have to - it's amazing what a little power will do to some people. Then spend lots of time with him so he knows you are the one who he can depend on. Fight for his independence as hard as you can, it is the last years of his life.Good luck.
Agree with amitebird..make sure it is Durable Power of Attorney. Also an advanced directive or living will, after asking his wishes. So the "nurse" won't be in charge via brother.
Okay, I am going to play devil's advocate here. We had similar issues in our family when our father was ill. He first depended on my brother , who is a doctor, but my brother could not bear to follow Dad's requests and let him die peacefully at 84. My mother was busy with her life after the initial shock. My sister couldn't bear the messiness of a man living with the results of a serious stroke.It impacted his body but not his brain after the first three weeks. My younger brother accepted a job oversees. That left me. My brother, the doctor, had made several hospitals angry, had alienated the staff, and was having a difficult emotional time. So, the next to the youngest 54 year old special ed teacher (me) who didn't mind dealing with Dad's physical needs, was left making decisions at the request of the doctors and nurses. I wanted to share the role, but most people ran as quickly as possible. I did what was in my dad's DNR which he had written and had verbalized to me after 8 months in 8 care facilities. I am not a popular person except with my Dad :) and my brother: I saved his 35 year old career by stepping up to make decisions. It was lonely, I am ignored, and I feel guilty, but sometime we have to do what is correct, moral , legal and LOVING. Your situation sounds different, but look for that person that is just trying to do the right thing and work together if you can. Best wishes. Rebecca
Forindependence, my first thought was, does dad have money? Is this all about who controls the money when he either dies or can't take care of himself? I shudder to think that it all comes down to that, but I've seen it on this website WAY too often.
I don't see how you could derive "desire for money" from this conversation. This is about independence and happiness. Of course, it could be - but that's not the topic of conversation. What I have seen in my family is an unwillingness to be burdened with the care of a parent and strangely the desire to overcontrol a parent. Money is talked about because it has a lot to do with choices for an elderly parent. Get real!
I have had an experience with the declining health of a parent and a sibling who thought/thinks she is the only one who knows the right thing to do concerning everything, including health care. This sister, who works in the insurance industry, is very negatively biased against health care in general , health care professionals, health care costs, and specific procedures. She and I have differing opinions concerning the extent of health care for senior citizens and have debated end-of-life steps because my parents have not addressed those issues in writing or verbally to the entire family. To make a long story short...without discussing it with me and my brother, she made some decisions for my mother's treatment to health care professionals, which in my opinion were the wrong decisions and led to my mother's premature death. What adds insult to injury is...I didn't find out about this until months later while reading a hospital care report. Before and after mom's death, my sister and I discussed my mother's treatment, and what I thought was a lack of beneficial treatment and procedures, and my sister never mentioned the part she played in making those decisions. It evidently was okay with her if I suggested perhaps there was neglect or wrongdoing via the doctors, nurses and my father for not providing our mother the treatment I thought was warranted. Turns out the docs and nurses inquired about the treatment and were told "no" by my sister. My father, who often said he didn't understand the medical jargon and pros & cons of treatment & procedures, was more than likely heavily influenced by my sister's opinion and went along with it.

Therefore, since you feel your father is competent I would ask him specific questions, put it in writing, dated and signed and make sure his health care providers have a copy. Might be smart to have someone witness the signing and your father's competency. This doesn't have to be an officially prepared legal document. I don't think I would let your brother and his wife know about it, or they could cause a stink and respond with roadblocks. I feel torn suggesting that you be more aggressive, because that almost sounds as though I'm condoning my sister's approach. But, from your comments I can tell you have your father's best interests in mind, wanting to stand-up for him and fighting against a control freak. Don't be out-manuevered, as I was. Take charge and do what is necessary for your father and HIS wishes. You know how your brother and SIL are, so use that knowledge to prepare a defense for your father and what he wants.
Top Answer
It would be extremely difficult, virtually impossible, for your brother and his wife to have your dad declared incompetent when he's not. This would have to be done through a court, there would have to be medical justification for it, it's just not that easy. So please don't panic about it and please don't feed your dad's paranoia about it. I know you don't want your dad to be distressed. So relax. Appreciate your SIL for the medical knowledge and leadership she can bring to a medical crisis, you can even make a little joke about how you wish you could turn her on and off. Tell your dad, she's just having a hard time letting go after being in charge while he was hospitalized and reassure him that she's not a threat, you just wish you could turn her on and off. Don't paint someone else as a threat to an old person (assuming they are acting out of love and aren't really a safety threat). Always reassure the elder. If your father does not want to have his medical information shared, he can simply tell his doctors this - he has a right to the privacy of his medical records under HIPAA.

As far as your relationship with your sibling and SIL, get a third party involved in planning early on. So many family break-ups happen over aging parent situations. You and your brother will likely survive past your dad, try to keep the family in tact.
Soverytired, I like what you said about being sure not to make a sibling out to be a threat to Mom or Dad. It is helping me to reflect on my own situation that's been contentious for the last few months. The last thing I want to do is make things worse so yours is very good advice.

Let me clarify that with my previous post, my intent with my suggestions is not to encourage or cause a combative atmosphere with your family. Nor is it to cause panic or paranoia with your father. The key to my suggestions is to assure that your father's wishes (while competent) are carried out.

In your family, the competency card has already been played by some family members. "If someone does not have their lives ordered EXACTLY as they do, they are quite verbal about declaring that the person is obviously deranged or incompetent " There is a sign that they have strong beliefs and opinions and that may very well override any other recommendations or advice provided by you, your father or professionals. They are raising the "competency" word to dismiss your father's decisions and yours.

My family is close and loving. We aren't one of these families that dread being with one another during the holidays or constantly disagree or argue. We all live within 60 miles of one another, see one another quite frequently and enjoy our times together. That's why it was a shock that my sister acted as she did...making life & death decisions for my mother without having a family meeting and discussing various opinions with my father. I think she purposely left us out of the decision-making-process because we could have thwarted her beliefs and having things done her way. (She knew she and I disagreed about the use of a treatment that was being recommended.) She manipulated the situation to mold the situation as she wanted it... according to her desires...not necessarily what my mother would have wanted or what would have been best for her, or what was being recommended by medical staff.

Did my sister have dastardly intentions? No, I don't think so, as I have no doubt she loved my mother. I think, for a variety of reasons, she believed strongly in her position and would not consider budging or compromising. I think she let her personal beliefs (inconsistent and biased IMO) overshadow what is ultimately the key question...what does/would the parent want.

The question shouldn't be: what is best for the parent? Then you enter the opinion and belief zone, and possibly from a variety of people. Then you've got a variety of opinions and no one will be pleased. If the parent hasn't vocalized to a variety of family members what they want or better yet, written down, while competent, what they want...then opinions and beliefs can fly. Questions about the parent's desires and their state-of-mind when stating those desires can be raised. My suggestions of asking your dad questions about his care and desires, and putting it down on paper, and witnessed, reduces or eliminates accusations and questions and the possibility of contentious relations with family members later.

I learned a lot from my experience. I learned things that I never imagined would be part of the aging parent scenario. Especially unimaginable concerning family members and how they reacted. Unlike me and my situation, you are getting some early clues as to what areas could get magnified in the future. I'm suggesting...take those clues and use them to your dad's benefit. Shore-up some unclear or questionable areas to reduce or prevent problems in the future.

Share your answer

Please enter your Answer

Ask a Question

Reach thousands of elder care experts and family caregivers
Get answers in 10 minutes or less
Receive personalized caregiving advice and support