Can I expect my 87-year-old mother-in-law to help with chores around the house?

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My MIL has moved in with with myself and my wife. Her huspand passed away a year ago and it's been a big change for her as well as us. She has been with us since November. But she misses all that she has left.

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She likely is depressed to some extent, and still grieving. If she can't seem to do anything at all (that she's capable of under a normal situation), then she should be checked out by a doctor. It could be that the combination of losses in her life - her husband, her home, and likely some of her lifelong belongings - are too much for her to handle.
There could be other reason's of course, so a good physical would be in order, anyway. Of course, she would feel better if she contributed more, but she may feel so displaced and depressed she can't. Try to help her find a reason to exist, while you are working on her health.
Good luck to you all. These many changes can't have been easy.
Carol
Nelkster: I can see that you are new to this website. Welcome. You will benefit greatly by reading all the 'wise words' from the experts and those of us that have lived through similar times by going through the resources and article written by the resident experts here. But to answer your immediate question, you have to ask yourself some questions.

Here are some questions you need to answer with your wife about your MIL:

What is her general health? (MIL)
What do you expect her to do?
What can she do safely to contribute?
What does your wife need help with?
Do your wife and MIL work well together?

Of course you can sit and discuss these questions with your MIL and wife together, but make it a discussion NOT an ultimatum. Just a conversation, casual over coffee and cake maybe.

Simple questions but worth defining. If her health is relatively good and she is willing to help, by ALL means include her in any activity around the house that is safe for her to do!

Of course she misses what she 'had' all of us would. Don't you agree? BUT we can find 'reasons' to go on, with loving family around to help!

We all need a "purpose" in life, even if it is just setting the table for dinner! If she is unable to handle certain tasks, or if something is too complicated, find SIMPLIER
stuff for her to do. With the answers to the questions above you and your wife should be able to find some uplifting answers that may just help her 'adjust' more.

Start with what she is WILLING to do, then what she LIKES to do, and then establish what she truly CAN do!

My mother loved to cook. But I noticed that she didn't want to eat when she first came to stay with us. Of course at first I didn't allow her to do anything, telling her that she was 'retired' and I would be happy to do for her. Boy.. that didnt' work! I also (like Linda said) I 'caught' my mother using ODD ways to do things, and was worried about the safety of the food or her for that matter. BUT, it didn't stop me from directing her to something I could supervise without her even realizing it. And BOY, did it make a difference. I went from having a mother that was uninterested in food (or meals) to someone that asked "When are we going to make lunch?" As my mother ALZ worsened I had to change tactics. (see below).

ex: If cooking is OUT of the question, then ask her to look for bargains in the paper to shop for. Or look through cook books for recipes she might like to 'taste'. Or watch the food channel for 'new ideas' (or old) for dinner.

At 87, with the losses your MIL has experienced there is going to be many adjustments she will have to make and these adjustments will keep changing!

I don't know your MIL's age, health or outlook on life, but please take the time to try. I never had children, and I never considered my elderly mother a "child" but I can see how having someone else help can make the job twice as hard, but, and it's a big BUT, we have to try to include them, engage them in LIFE, or the situation can get much worse. Depression will set in, and then that's when (in my humble opinion) drugs are used and the situation gets worse! Drugs MAY or may not be necessary if you just let them know "here's how you can help Mom" , instead of "Here take this pill it will make you feel better". Fresh air and sunshine helps me more than any pill I think can be prescribed!

At 87 your MIL will have to make some adjustment too, but let them be HER decision. As long as she doesn't put herself or others in harms way, what's wrong with a few mistakes? If she doesn't wash the dishes right, show her how to put them in the dishWASHER and let the machine sterilize the dishes. If she uses dirty socks to wipe something, have her put dirty clothes in the washer! You can check the washer WITH her without seeming 'overbearing' and she will be helping herself too.

Mistakes are a part of life. Some of my best recipes where 'mistakes' and some of my nicest pieces of artwork started with a failure and they turned out great too!

Tell us MORE about your MIL (if you like), talk to your wife, and learn more
about her abilities. You will learn something about yourselves too and what you are capable of doing, what you want to do, and in reality what you are willing to do!

God Bless!!
something I had to learn also was to appreciate the things my father would do to try to help me, even if he did them all wrong and I would have to redo things. When this would happen I would remind myself that it was sweet of him to try.
I cannot answer for your MIL, but my 95 year old mother puts the dishes away from the dishwasher. That is her "chore" and she likes it because it keeps her stretching and limber. When she can no longer do that, then I will do it for her. It all depends on how much they are able to do without hurting themselves. It gives a sense of purpose and self-respect for contributing. Mom still plays keyboard at a few nursing homes once a week. She gets a kick out of that!
If she can physically do things and it makes her happy, just keep in mind she might not get it completely right, and even so bless her for a job well done! This is a way for her to feel important and usefull. I would give Mom a basket of dirty clothes (no other clothes in her sight) I would start the machine put in the detergent, and ask her to just put them in the machine. She would take them out after cycle and put them in basket, then she could put them in dryer but I would set the dryer. Then when they were dry she'd put them in basket and she'd dump the clean clothes on a table, then she'd fold them. After a while if I did the first parts and dumped clothes on table she'd automatically fold them. This became our routine. BUT, I obseverved from afar... and clothes were neately folded but in various piles all over my house. LOL I wish I had her Home for that extra helping hand, this was a Way for her to use her muscles, bend, focus, and feel useful and give me a break, it was a bit less I had to do. The dishes is a good thing to but sometimes when she was at my sisters she emptied a dirty dish washer and put them in cabinets,so my sister would have to rewash all her dishes not knowing what was clean or dirty. I didn't have a dish washer so I would wash she would dry and I would tell her piece by piece where they belonged, so I could find stuff, if not who knows where they would end up. So it is OK for Mom's with Dementia to use thier capabilities just be smart about what the limits are and don't expect perfection. Oh and I would take her to recycle cans and bottles in NY... you get a refund and this is mindless but then I'd take her out to lunch with the money we got back. LOL they were Mostly my boyfriends beer cans (a months worth) and she'd say "my goodness, he drinks too much, it's not good for him, YUK, I HATE BEER!!! Every CAN she put into machine she repeated that statement. LMAO NOW... I forgot about that, THEN... it was humiliating as people stood behind us waiting for her to finish and listened to this ... now.... that memory makes me smile! I constantly have to remind myself "Dementia is Confused" definately "Not Stupid!!!!"
Well, they are humans just like us. Maybe she doesn't feel needed. My mother was 83 when she passed but, she always wanted to feel needed. I would always ask her help on things she really knew. I may have known myself but, i knew she would like me to ask for help. Start talking to her about the past. Ask her what it was like when she was young. Watch her eye's light up when she remembers Uncle John doing something silly. I loved those moments with her. Remember they deserve all the respect you can give. Let them go with dignity I always say. Soon she will feel like she fits in. She will always miss her husband like, we do for our loved one's that have passed. But, they do enjoy talking about their life with the dearly departed ones too. We only get one chance with life make, sure the rest of her life is filled with love......................
I believe we all need to feel like we are contributing. folding laundry is excellent idea, going out to get the mail, feeding the pets or changing their water...simple things like a child would do builds self esteem. Of course you do have to supervise some things, but we all need a job of some sort. Keep it simple and be patient and your parent will be happier and so will you.
I wouldn't assume that its a bad thing to invite her to share chores and responsibility around the house. It may give her a sense of contribution, along with genuinely offloading some of the responsibility from you and your wife. You might start by thinking about how chores are shared in the house now, and thinking about what she might do best or be best interested in. If some shifting of chores needs to happen perhaps its a family discussion. Is everyone doing their share? You might talk to your wife about what she thinks her mother might enjoy most, and if mom is willing to assist, ease into it with one thing at a time. But keep in mind, mom may need some help with the chores, or it may be a matter of sharing a chore with her. The chores she takes on should be scaled to her physical and mental capabilities (without being patronizing). For example, if its helping do her bills, support HER system and set everything up so she can just make out the checks. If its something that requires alot of standing or bending, leave it off her list. It may be a really positive thing that she feel a part of the routine and a contributing member of the family. I think that it has not helped my mother and her dementia that things she cannot do anymore are simply taken away from her, and not shared at all.
I always tell my mother that she's retired and doesn't have to do this any more. She has Alzheimers and so her help is not really very helpful. Still, when she wants to help I try to assign her something so she can feel useful and stimulated. Usually, I ask her to look at the Penzey's spice catalog to see if there's anything we need. Sometimes I give her a towel to dry dishes I've washed.
I guess that would totally depend on her mental and physical state. My mother is 81 but actually pretty spry physically. She would be happy to help me with some chores. My mom's problem is that she forgets what she was doing and gets frazzled.

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