carolyn50 Asked December 2011

What is a reasonable amount of time to devote to a parent in assisted living?

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My mother is 79, and lives in a very nice assisted living facility 20 minutes from my house. She has excellent medical care that is coordinated through the facility, and has transportation to/from doctors, shopping and social events. They have a library with computers, health club, social events, lots of aides to help out, etc. In short, it's the kind of place I'd like to live in when I'm too old/frail to care for myself. She is able to get around (uses a walker) and is mentally sharp enough to enjoy all these things.

My problem is she calls me for everything -- every complaint (of which there are many), thought, and desire. If I don't answer my phone she'll keep calling and calling -- sometimes 6 or 8 times a day leaving nasty messages on my voicemail if I don't answer the phone. She expects me to be her personal shopper to run out whenever she decides she wants something. I don't mind picking up a few things for her when I'm at the store anyway, but I don't like being expected to make special trips to hunt down whatever she wants, when she wants it. She is very demanding and treats me like I'm her slave. If I don't jump whenever she wants something, or take off work to drive her to the doctors, she whines and complains and tells me what a bad person I am. She is miserable to be around and acts like she wants me to be miserable too.

I own a small business and work more than full time to support myself, and have a house and two dogs to take care of. I also have health issues of my own, much of which my doctor attributes to "stress." The rest of my immediate family (father and brother) have passed on so everyone tells me I'm "it" and it's my responsibility to take care of her. My mother has a sister and brother, but they don't have much to do with her. I moved back to my hometown six years ago after my brother died (I was living 1000 miles away), and gave up on my career to move here to take care of her. I manage her finances, pay all her bills, take care of a townhouse that she still owns (I rented it out), coordinated all her medical care when she needed heart surgery (I went to the hospital/skilled nursing facility daily for months) and got her moved into this facility where she has everything she could possibly need.

I feel like I have no life, and that I'm am losing myself and need to get away from her. What is a reasonable amount of time to devote to her? How often should I talk to her, visit her, do her shopping, etc?

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NancyH Dec 2011
Carolyn, my mother-in-law lives in an asst living place too, but other than that the similarities seem to end between you and I. She doesn't whine and complain when she doesn't see me, in fact she's grateful for the time that I get her out of there and we do things together. She has the beginning of Alz and is legally blind with macular degeneration, so her world is pretty small. Since my husband (her son) and I lives closest and I'm the one that doesn't work outside the home, it's me that sees to her needs. But even as wonderful as she is with the gratefulness and all, I still only see her 3 times a week, unless she has something physically going on that is. It's her choice to just sit in her room and watch TV instead of visiting with the other residents or participating in the activities they have there. I must say that on occasion she does participate as much as her eyes and terrible memory will allow her, and she's glad she did it to. So don't feel guilty or sorry or whatever you're feeling every time your mother tells you to jump. She has total control over her happiness in the situation she's in, but she just chooses to be miserable. It stinks getting old and not having your body do the things it once did, but that's no reason to make everyone around you miserable. And THAT is also a choice. If you can set your phone to automatically go to voicemail for certain numbers, do it. Tell mom that you're going to be 'out of service' or whatever on x amount of days and at x times and stick to it. If there's really an emergency, the staff will call you and that phone number will go through. She should be grateful for what you do for her, maybe it's time to remind her of that.
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jeannegibbs Dec 2011
You have no life. You are losing yourself. You need to get away from her, at least as a slave. Trust your feelings.

It is your responsibility to take care of her, and you are doing a splendid job. All that behind-the-scenes management of finances, medical care, and advocating for her takes time and skill and is stressful. It is often under-appreciated, but those of us who have to do it know it is not a trivial effort. Good work!

You are responsible to see that she is cared for, but none of us is responsible for someone else's happiness. She is miserable to be around when you don't live up to her standards of personal service. Is she pleasant when you do?

Do you want her to treat you like you're a bad person for the next twenty years? It's a possibility. Maybe setting boundaries now would be worth the effort it will take.

There is no "standard" amount of time to spend with our parents, whether they are in a long term care facility or not. Decide what seems reasonable to you, and then establish that as a pattern. Perhaps you'd like to call her for twenty minutes each day, or every other day, at a set time. Maybe you want to visit her once a week at the ALF, and take her out once a week, to lunch or a movie or to shop. You figure out what makes sense to you, and then explain the new plan to your mother. She isn't going to like it. What else is new?

You are her daughter. Not a maid. Not a shopping service. Not a dumping ground for every complaint in the universe.

You are doing a great job of taking care of her. Now you need to apply some of that caring skill to you.

If this is really tough for you, perhaps a few sessions with a counselor would help you be able to set some boundaries that will make you feel better about your relationship with your mother. It might ultimately be an improvement for her, too.

Good luck!
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