How much should my sedentary mother be expected to do for herself?

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Last year I moved in with my mother because she lives alone and her health has deteriorated a great deal. She fell a few times in the past, and is afraid of living alone.
I don't want to go into great detail and make this a very long post, but a few salient points as background--my mother is a VERY intelligent woman (former attorney), widowed when I was 5 (I'm now 54). She is also very well-off, and has been extremely generous financially, paying for my son's education, etc. I'm divorced, and I'm ashamed to say that at this point it would be very difficult for me to start up a career again and be financially independent, so in many ways I've put myself in a vulnerable (and perhaps selfish) position with her. She is generous, but she very often uses her money as a tool of control (again, I blame myself for allowing this to be the case at this point in my life, but there it is).
I do love her, but we have never gotten along and in general I find it very difficult to be around her. She can be hyper-critical (I was determined not to let her treat my son the way she treated me as a child) and is prone to rather childish temper-tantrums. I believe she's had depression all her life; a few years ago I was able to persuade her to go on antidepressants. They helped (she became somewhat more pleasant), but it's a really low dose and I've asked her to increase it but she refuses.
She can also be very kind, but any conversation with her is like a minefield--I never know what I might say to set her off on a critical tirade.
I could go on, but I want to get to the main question. My mother has always hated any kind of exercise, and her biggest pleasures have always been sleeping and eating incredibly unhealthy snacks and desserts. When she retired about 20 years ago, she literally said (she says I'm making it up, but I am not) that she basically didn't plan to get off the couch ever again.
Not surprisingly, at 84 she is now overweight, diabetic, with high blood pressure and heart problems (she had triple-bypass about 15 years ago). She is in constant pain because of back problems--I"m quite certain it's because her main activity all day long is sitting on the couch watching TV (which she keeps on 24/7, even when people are trying to have a conversation with her) and, with no muscle left to support her frame and her weight, her skeletal structure is just shot. Her doctors have called her "deconditioned" (again, she denies that they have said this) and have pretty much given up on telling her that she needs PT or some form of exercise because she becomes abusive with them about it.
I certainly understand that pain (which is considerable--she's on all kinds of painkillers to which she's developed a tolerance) makes her even less willing to exercise. But I also know (and I checked with her doctor again recently to make sure that I wasn't just being mean) that her condition and her pain will only get even worse if she doesn't do something other than lie on the couch all day, and doesn't make real changes in her lifestyle. I keep telling her that she could live many more years, but that she will be bedbound very soon if things don't change.
At home, I do help her keep the place neat and clean (she has become very careless about hygiene and cleanliness), drive her to appointments, shop for her, etc. I do sometimes cook for her if she's especially tired or not feeling well (for health reasons of my own--long story--I don't really eat dinner any more). But much of the time I don't do it, because I'm thinking that at least if she gets up and moves around the kitchen, etc., it will at least get her off of the couch and keep everything from atrophying completely. She gets petulant about it, implying that I should do it all, but I just don't. And of course I feel guilty and conflicted.
So the question is--am I just being unkind? I know that I have anger issues about her just letting herself fall apart and become so slovenly (aside from our usual disagreements), and it really just depresses me to see her loll around all day with the damned TV going. I see a lot of her neighbors, all about her age, and some with very serious medical conditions, doing a lot of physical activity.
I've really been on my own about this, and the resentment AND the guilt and uncertainty about what to do (or not do) is driving me crazy. She has money enough to get someone to come in and work with her, and a pool where she could do water exercises in privacy with a trainer, but no.
Any insights/advice/whatever would be greatly appreciated, and sorry for the long post here!

Answers 1 to 10 of 10
Top Answer
I am not a religious person, but I do believe we reap what we sow. And actions have consequences. If you don't believe your mom has cognitive decline, then she's choosing to live her life the way she wants. You can't save her and you don't need to try. She can hire help, she can choose to get up off the've offered your support and she's choosing to stay in her pain and inactivity.

So let her make her choices and limit your contact with her. Set good boundaries for yourself so her choices don't bring you down. When she starts complaining or criticizing, hang up the phone or say, "Oops, sorry mom, gotta go" and leave. She'll learn that her negative behavior will result in less time with you.

Being caught in the web of a wealthy but abusive parent is a very bad place to be. I've seen it with friends and I'm not sure the money is worth the pain and suffering you must endure to "earn" it. So build your own independent life with your son and you'll be much happier in my opinion. And get some counseling about your parent/child relationship. You protected your son and now it's time to protect yourself. You deserve it too!
Your mother is entitled to spend the rest of her life on the couch if she wants to. Her life, her decisions

You are not obligated to enable behaviors you see as self-destructive.

How much should she do for herself? Exactly the same as any other person who has a caregiver -- as much as she can. As Rainmom says, pain may be a limiting factor for that.

If you are financially dependent on your mother, there are other factors regarding what you are doing in exchange for her financial support.

But in a situation that isn't complicated by some dysfunction, caregivers should encourage the loved one to do as much for themself as possible.
So proud of myself! I just went downstairs long enough to make some coffee and she started up with something and I just took my coffee and walked back upstairs without a word and I remain relatively unflustered! Do I get a gold star or something?! :)
My mother also was an extremely intelligent woman - also very driven and head strong. Mom was going to do what she was going to do, no matter what anyone else - including her husband and children had to say about it. Conversely- God help the person who tried to tell her what to do! Now that mom is 89 and has dementia, her doing whatever she wanted - everyone be damned, has pretty much stopped - she doesn't have the mental or physical strength for much these days. However - being resistant to being told what to do has stuck - the years leading up to this point have been very difficult as she would listen to no one regardless of her best interest.
So here's what I've learned: Don't bother. Your mom isn't going to exercise and eat right - especially at this age - because you ask her to. Quite making yourself nuts over it. Continue as you are - not enabling her. Although I do think it would be wise to consult her doctor regarding what in fact she is physically capable of. If her pain is so great that it's keeping her from fixing her own meals- than certainly someone should be helping with this - and other ADLs if necessary.
nancy, I can relate to a lot of what you're going through. I agree that your mother should do whatever she can do. She should be able to cook her meals and do her laundry. She should be able to keep the area she occupies clean enough. You can fill in the areas that would be too much for her. Though she is supporting you, you are not her private slave daughter. You being there and keeping the difficult things done are enough.

I'm more concerned about you than I am about her. I get the feeling you need to get out and about more. I don't mean to the pool or for a walk around the neighborhood. Your mother should be fine if you want to get out for a few hours every day. Writers need experiences and you won't get them sitting at the house. Another good thing -- Your mother may be like mine. She likes me better when I go out for a few hours. I think it is because it gives her some alone time in her house. Try setting up some things to do -- nature hikes, bird walks, yoga or exercise classes, whatever you're interested in. Perhaps you could start a workshop in writing at the local senior center. Keep yourself out there and don't resign yourself to being just your mother's daughter. It's easy to do. Believe me, I know. You might be surprised that there are people and opportunities out there waiting for you. If you worry about your mother falling, get a life alert button. "What-ifs" can keep you in a box, so work through them and get out of the house. You're too young to be old just yet. Your mother could have an accident, but she could also have one with you there. You can't let it keep you penned up.

Hmm... I think I needed to say that to myself. I get out for a bit every day, but I need to get out more before I wither away into early elderliness.
The pt and ot that came to our house stated that pain is a cycle. If a person does not exercise, the pain will be worse when they try to move. They said that it takes 5 days for and elderly person to regain the strength they lose sitting around doing nothing for one day. So that being said, you cannot help someone who doesnt want to help themselves. I got to the point that I felt little sympathy for pain.

As for the it a danger for her to cook for herself? For example, does she have the strength to lift a pan on hot water or oil or could she fall asleep with something in the oven? If she cannot do things for herself safely, maybe it is time to take over cooking.
I'm curious why she wouldn't go to a psychiatrist. There are several of us here who can attest to the fact that medication management by a skilled geriatric psychiatrist has made all the difference in the world with our older relatives.

Many antidepressants are used in pain management regimens (is she AT LEAST seeing a pain management specialist?). Your mother needs more specialized care than her GP or internist can provide. And as a side note, don't judge MOM"s antidepressant dosage by your own; the senior body processes those meds quite differently.

It also sounds as though there is underlying mental illness or personality disorder in the mix, which make any kind of cognitive decline more problematic.

I think if I were you, I'd find myself a therapist, tell mom that you love her twice a day and avoid most interactions with her, since they seem to go south.

I'd say let her stay on the couch. At age 84, she's not going to change her ways. She probably isn't going to be around much longer if she refuses to do anything to lessen her health problems.

Are you the only child? Are you the executor of her will or successor trustee of a trust? Do you have to live with her?
There's a certain "nobody understands" aspect to the rip current between an only child/daughter and a mother who never quite fit the mold. (Not judging. I am one, too.) As you were growing up, you were undoubtedly loved and provided for. And mom might have cast you in a role that runs counter to boundaries.

From a young age, female only children are often groomed to be mom's mirror. Or validation. Or filter. Or confidant. Or window to the world. Or domestic partner.

If any if this was at play, it's Not Your Fault. With my mom, I struggled to read her signs of old-age decline. I thought she was just "being herself" to the 9th (and most intractable) degree. Turns out she had 2 different conditions that hampered her brain function.

People from different parts of mom's life were callng out her weird sh*t. And I responded to a dangerous % of it with "that's just her." Because mom had me all too never challenge The World According To Her.

My heart goes out to you. Be sure to get several opinions on your mother. Whether they are formal or informal. Stay committed to taking care of your own physical and mental health -- and keeping a foot in the outside world.

God bless our old mothers, but every last one of them would sit back and let it turn into Big Edie and Little Edie [a reference to Grey Gardens].....IF we let them. ((((hugs!))))
That's great that her affairs are in order. Too bad that she's so miserable though.

I have a little experience with that. One of my family members complains a lot too. She always has pain and some kind of ailment, needs to see doctor, worried it's fatal, etc. She refuses to take anxiety/depression meds, though. Her doctor and I encourage it, but she creates a reason she can't tolerate them. I believe she doesn't want the relief the meds might bring. I just shake it off.

Things that have been engrained for years are not likely to change at this point in her life. I chalk it up to a form of mental decline. I don't blame her, but I certainly don't blame myself either. I think I have a pretty healthy sense of self and have peace in not catering to unrealistic expectations with the seniors in my family. Still, it must be difficult to hear verbal putdowns. I'm not sure how I would handle that.

Hang in there.

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