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!
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One thing to add, please don't force your vegetarian meals on your mom. If she likes pork chops, hamburger, whatever, then make them for her. It's not like she is expecting you to eat them with her, so what's the big deal? My mom likes her ice cream and I don't; however, that doesn't stop me from giving her a bowl of it.
At the moment I'll just address a few points that people have made--otherwise I'll end up going on forever yet again!
First--careisgiving--I did not notice a single error, and I'm only really judgmental about that stuff with my son (poor kid was properly using semicolons at the age of 5 :) )!
Also, I'm not sure if she's had her thyroid checked, although hypothyroidism would certainly be a suspect (I had mine checked at one point because of tiredness, etc., but it was fine). As far as the antidepressants are concerned, she is on (as I was for a long time) Wellbutrin, which is unlike SSRI's in that it is more likely to make people LOSE weight (either on purpose or not)--I lost 30 pounds when I took it. It also really helps with energy level and motivation in people for whom it's suited (obviously, "what works" is different for every person with depression). When she started taking the low dose a few years ago (after quite a struggle!), her mood noticeably improved (I wasn't the only one who noticed it). It clearly works for her but, again, the dosage is very low and it seems clear that the depression is still in play. Obviously, a medical professional would be the one to evaluate whether or not she should change the dosage, but I'd be willing to bet...
As for a psychiatrist, she just doesn't believe in them. She proudly subscribes to the "pick yourself up by your bootstraps" thinking of her childhood era and upbringing. She STILL swears that the antidepressants made no difference, and at times I've found out that she wasn't taking them and lying about it (I could tell because her mood worsened).
Babalou, she is seeing doctors for many different things (including pain management, big-time), mostly through Mayo, so her care has been quite good and thorough. I don't know if anyone has suggested a psychiatric consult for her, but if they have I can assure that they were shut down in no uncertain terms. I think you're also probably right about the personality disorder. But you raise a good point--properly managed antidepressants could also be useful in the pain management. I wonder if I could approach her that way on it... And your last paragraph was spot-on. :)
BlackHole, yes, on so many things (I believe I can check the "validation"--and not quite working out as that--box!). And "never challenge the World According to Her"--yes!! I'm sorry that you've dealt with that stuff too. It's amazing how the effects remain after all this time.
Thank you again, Sunnygirl. Sounds as if you've found some good ways to make peace with things--definitely something to be admired.
Back to Careisgiving--I laughed about your mother and the PT. I can easily see my mother doing the exact same thing! And it's nice to have someone who "gets it" about the career thing. I have no idea what I'd put on my resume at this point, and any skills and training I've had in the past are now pretty much passe. But I do get published a great deal (as a poet, so I'm not exactly making a living, to say the least :) !), so that makes me feel good.
And finally, JessieBelle, thank you for your concern. I am actually very happy doing what I do. I'm not a total hermit, and, until my son graduated H.S. this year, I spent a lot of time attending his performances at school, talking to his friends' parents, and just generally taking care of him (I still do the latter!). My writing gives me a lot of satisfaction, and I love to be out getting exercise and just enjoying nature around here. I'm not lonely at all--just frustrated by interactions with my mother at this point. I've had more than my share of a social life in my life; for the time being I'm enjoying the relative solitude. That may change again, and if it does I'll definitely get out there. I really appreciate your concern about it.
Well, I went on forever in spite of myself. If I left anything or anyone out, I apologize! Thanks again to everyone.
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.
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.
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.
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 well.....to 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!))))
As far as lengthening her life is concerned, I'm less concerned about that than I am about her quality of life and her pain level. She often starts yelling that I don't care enough, and that I never ask her about how she's feeling, but the latter is because she tells me constantly about how she's feeling--I'm well aware, but I'm helpless to do anything about it other than suggest the things that I believe might help--pt, getting outside sometimes, possible increase in her antidepressants, better food choices. It's kind of a no-win situation--say nothing and be accused of not caring, or make suggestions and getting shut down and/or yelled at.
But you're right--it is her life, and they're her choices. I guess I'll just have to bite my tongue.
I guess I just feel bad/guilty that we don't have one of those close, loving, mother/daughter relationships that seem to be the ideal--or at least you see them a lot in the movies!
(BTW, when I say that I'm less concerned about longevity, it's because that's just my own personal feeling about life in general--that quality of life is more important than length. It's not a personal statement about my feelings about her.)
"Old age is no place for sissies". ~ Bette Davis
But you're right--definitely not for sissies!! :)
But the problem is that I just feel myself wanting to be around her as little as possible, because conversations invariably turn ugly, and because I'm just so frustrated and kind of (I hate to use this word, but...) disgusted by her utter lack of regard for herself and her property. I know that I can't make her change, but I just resent her expectation that I enable her to do nothing. And then I just feel like kind of a jerk for not just letting it go...
Here's a story about how deep the resistance goes: about 15 years ago, after her heart surgery, I convinced her to adopt a little dog, because I thought it would give her some company and also give her a reason to get up and walk. She LOVED the dog (who passes away a few months ago), but never once in her life did she put her on a leash and even take her out to the yard for a little walk. She took to simply letting the dog go out on the lanai of the pool and do her business there. It was a MESS. I would clean it when I came to visit, but it was truly disgusting. And this is a big, gorgeous, expensive house in a "gated community." I don't know if the neighbors saw it, but the people who came to work on the yard, pool, etc., must have thought it was awful. And this started well before her pain started to get really bad.
At this point I think I'm just venting. :) I appreciate the opportunity, and the helpful words!!
At her age, I would think she has a right to live as she pleases. As long as she is competent, then, she has the right to not exercise and eat the foods of her choice, even if they are not healthy choices.(I'd keep check, because some of the behavior sounds like it could be early dementia, such as lack of hygiene, lack of motivation, petulant behavior.)
Even being very active and having a great diet would gain her how many more years? Sometimes we have to accept that others make choices that we wouldn't make. When we reach her age, we may not be as motivated either. So, I'd try to offer support and accept her decision. To me, it's not the same if a younger person who has many years of potential life ahead. At any rate, I would try not to stress and find some peace about it, since it's her decision and you have done your best.
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?
Babalou--you are absolutely right that I'm not arguing from a "position of strength." As far as work is concerned, I'm a writer. And I suggested (strongly, I'll admit) that she ask the doctor about increasing the antidepressants. I've been on the same on in the past, so I'm pretty familiar with it (antidepressants tend to work similarly among family members). She is on half of the usual dosage. I have gone to the doctor with her, and I get the impression at this point that he's kind of given up. The last time I was there I asked him (again, because I wanted to make sure that I wasn't just being vindictive about the exercise thing) what would help with her pain, her diabetes, etc. His answer was unequivocal--"More physical activity." My mother was there; she heard him (although I wouldn't be surprised if she denied it now).
Good points were made about whether it's safe for her to cook. The thing is, she kind of wants to eat pretty much the same thing every night--a fried pork chop or hamburger or something, some microwaveable mashed potatoes, and a vegetable of some kind. None of that involves much that's dangerous. When I've cooked other things for her in the past (I'm a vegetarian), she generally makes it clear that she's not crazy about it. I do prepare things like homemade soup and pasta sauce and freeze them in small containers for her to use, but in general she prefers her pork chops.
The pain question is, again, the big one, and kind of the point of my original question--is it better for her to work through the pain to make herself do SOME kind of physical activity (as most people do when they're recovering from injuries, surgery, etc.), or should I consider it prohibitive at this point? I just feel that if I let her, she will never get off of that damned couch again.
But I am tired of arguing, and I do feel the need to set boundaries. I don't think she's entirely able at this point to control her behaviors, because they're so ingrained (and, again, I really do think that a lot of them have to do with depression--although there is NO WAY she'd agree to see a psychiatrist).
Tacy, this is an amazing piece of information: "They said that it takes 5 days for and elderly person to regain the strength they lose sitting around doing nothing for one day." It's been about 20 years now!
The thing is--she's got no one else, unless she hires someone to live there (she does have a young woman who comes in most mornings and gets her breakfast, etc.). I told her that I would never try to put her in a facility of any kind (and I would not, because I've seen them and I know that she would hate them--many for very good reasons!). But I just find myself so d@mn angry so often...
YOU suggested an increase in anti depressant dosage? Do you mean the doctor suggested it?
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 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.
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!