My older brother is emotionally abusing my elderly Mom. What can I do?

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Hi, I live in another state and my older brother (64) lives with my Mom who is 89. He yells at her, belittles her, won't drive her to where she needs to go, etc.

My Mom won't do anything and I am scared to report my brother as I don't want to add more stress to my Mother as she is constantly stressed because of my brother. I suggested that my Mom sell her house but she is not ready to do that. Then it has been talked about me moving in with her and when my brother heard that he had a fit and screamed at my mother. I don't know what do to. Thanks, Jenna

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Top Answer
I will offer a slightly different perspective here...which is you need to let your mom and brother handle their own affairs until there's a point where your mom really is serious about changing things. You're trying to step in and change long-term behaviors in both of them. They have had a relationship of dysfunction for years and years from what you're saying with your mom defending and enabling your brother. And she's not showing any signs of changing that kind of behavior.

If you try to disrupt that pattern outside of an emergency, you risk them both ganging up against YOU - seeing you as the meddling bad guy, while losing any leverage you have.

I know it's hard, but I'd let things continue until something happens...which is often how change comes to our seniors (unfortunately). Something like brother winds up in the hospital from his untreated diabetes, or mom winds up in the hospital because of poor care from brother and can't go back home...

Otherwise you're beating your head against a brick wall. Any rational person would agree with your analysis of the situation, but the two players who are involved don't see enough wrong with their situation to want to make a drastic change.
I'm surprised that someone from APS told you your mother had to call. In my experience they are obligated to investigate potential abuse calls whether the alleged victim calls or someone from the family calls.

I would call them back and clarify this - it doesn't sound right from what I've read here as well as from personal experience.
I think you should be careful not to get yourself into a position you can't easily get out of if you need to.

How about going to stay for a definite amount of time, say two weeks, agreed by everybody, and just seeing how it goes? That way nobody is committed to anything long term, and if it's not working you can all think again and no hard feelings. But if it is working, and it suits everyone, you can always extend the stay. Just tread carefully. Being positive and optimistic is great, and getting on better with your brother is great, too; but don't paint yourself into a corner. You need to keep your options open.
Interesting, does he only yell at her when you are talking to her? Unfortunately some mothers stir the pot and keep siblings fighting among themselves. It gives them a sense of control. Try not to take the bait. If she complains about your brother, change the subject. If she asks you to move in, change the subject. Keep yourself on neutral ground. Ask her about clothes, cooking, shoes, the weather, anything but stuff that starts the yelling.
If your mom is still competent to make her own decisions there is little that you can do. Could you offer to have her come to your location for a visit? Maybe if she is with you for a week or two she would tell you what is going on and you could better evaluate the situation. She may not want to sell her house because that would mean that her son would no longer have a place to live. It wouldn't be the first time that an elderly parent put one of their children's needs ahead of their own. In the meantime, you could research some alternatives for both your mom and your brother so you are ready in case things get worse.
I agree with Countrymouse after rereading all of your answers. Your brother is very changeable you've said - up and down, nice then not nice. One visit does NOT a permanent change in behavior make! I have a sneaking suspicion you're going to wind up like the servant girl - at their beck and call to do all of the things your brother and mother don't want to do, like the cooking and the cleaning and the running them hither and yon.

I would be very, very cautious in stepping back into the middle of their situation. You've said your brother has used physical violence on you before - even tried to strangle you. None of his grown children want anything to do with him, etc. There's a reason for that. So I'd be very, very careful about giving up your old life to rescue both of them. Your mom has proven again and again she'd rather keep your brother and his dysfunction than take any steps to a healthier existence. So just be careful for your own sake!
If your mother's house is worth a significant amount of money, the obvious plan is to sell the house and move her to a more practical setting for care: that could be an easy-to-maintain home that you could share with her (if you're sure you could cope with her) or, better yet, a retirement apartment where she'd have the company of her peers and plenty of support for activities of daily living. If there is money to spare she would of course be free to use some of it to set your brother up independently; but you probably know better than I do the caveats around that.

If you're that uneasy around your brother the idea of moving back even into this separate apartment sounds like a non-starter. But even more, for his long-term wellbeing's sake, he needs to stop leaning on his mother and pick up his life again. It sounds as though the divorce really derailed him? Or was the derailing responsible for the divorce, do you think? Either way, the current situation is doing nothing to get him back on his feet emotionally. Your mother may dread facing up to change, but living with an angry man is no good for her either. A separation needs to be brought about somehow...
What a terribly sad situation, Jenna - wretched for your poor mother, but also fraught and unhealthy for your brother too. I like AKD's suggestion of her getting a break from the stress, if you're able to have her to stay for a short while? It might be chance for her to get some perspective and maybe come up with a plan that's better for everyone.
Blannie is completely right and described the situation very well. You're not going to be able to change ingrained behavior. Unfortunately, there are complex psychological behaviors at play.
I agree with blannie, It could also be that your mother just wants someone to complain to. I was there with my mother, she just wanted someone to bitch to so she could be a victim, she really didn't want anything done. Your mother sounds the same way. She keeps you stirred up, but she resists you actually doing anything. This sounds like an old problem that has been going on for years. Don't listen, if she starts complaining about your brother, just tell her you don't want to hear anything about it until she is ready to do something, or just change the subject. There is a thing called the rescue triangle. We rescue people then they are mad at us for doing it, then we are the victim. If you take your mother out of a home she loves, then she can blame you for doing it. It sounds like you need to distance yourself.

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