Any ideas to help my sister establish boundaries with our mother, who is living as an independent in assisted living facility?

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Thanks in advance for any suggestions.


My mother is 84. She has had health issues (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, small strokes, heart attack, two bypass surgeries) for over 30 years. She is also a non-compliant patient and as a parent, she was controlling and occasionally abusive. At least once a year, she has medical "emergencies" that require a visit to the ER to be admitted for observation and tests for a few days. Something that, in the past, the entire family would come running and sit with her. 30+ years of that....and more often than not, nothing being found wrong...well, none of us really come running anymore. This past year, her medical 'emergencies' have increased but coincide with stressful/life changing decisions such as, moving into assisted living and closing on the house. She's obsessed with her blood pressure, taking it multiple times a day. I am one of three girls and the only one that lives out-of-state. With small children and a husband who travels, I can't drop everything for these 'emergencies'. Both of my sisters live in the same town with my mom. One has boundaries well-established that she is rarely called for assistance. The other, the one I'm concerned about, is emotionally exhausted and drops everything she has going on to run to mom's aid...basically, she and her family are 24/7 on-call for mom and she, understandably, resents it but can't figure a way out of it. The facility mom is living in....there really is NO reason for her to be calling either of my sisters for anything she needs. I just got off the phone with my sister, who is on her way over to sit with mom in her apartment. She cancelled her own appointment to run over and be with mom. Mom calls her to let her know what her latest blood pressure reading is...for attention, we imagine. Actually, she mentioned she had an appointment and mom asked how long it would be. When told, my mom's reply was "Oh." To which my sister said "I suppose I could cancel it" and mom's reply was "I wish you would, please." Big age difference between my sisters and I, the only reason I share that is because we're at different stages in our own lives and not only does the one sister get called but so does her husband and adult children.


Our father passed away 3 years ago and he catered to mom. There is no replacement for him.


As far as friends of my mom's, most have either quit calling or it is very infrequent. If she has not heard from someone for a while, she does not reach out.


I won't deny that I'm very angry with our mother because I tend to see what she is doing, as being abusive, manipulative to my sister. There is no reason that one elderly woman needs 9 adults to wait on her, hand and foot...especially when she is living in a facility that can take care of everything. Mom says she can't take care of herself but will not relinquish control of anything.


Mom will later apologize for disrupting everyone's lives. To this particular sister, she will shed tears....yes, the push/pull thing.


Any suggestions on how I can help/support my sister in establishing boundaries that she can feel good about? We have a plan for her to take a vacation, that I come down to be physically be 'there', so she can take a break without feeling guilt but it isn't for a few months (Summer when school is out).


I understand that this stage of life mom is in, has fears and anxieties all their own. There is no lack of compassion or understanding on that (although this post doesn't really reflect that). Her fears and anxieties shouldn't become all-consuming demands from my sister and her family...right?


Once again, I am grateful to you all for any suggestions to help and support my sister with this.

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Scatter,

So you have a sister with an "it better be a real emergency" attitude and another one who's a softy.

My mother, when feeling lonely, also resorts to selfish, manipulative, attention-seeking behaviors. No one except me actually tells her the effect that has on everyone else because they're afraid of offending her. Or having to live with the guilt if in fact something serious happens and they didn't run to the rescue when they were supposed to. ... As if we could predict the future.

Regardless of your mom's medical history, the BS has to stop. She needs to hear it from you.
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Your sister needs to back off little by little. Maybe the other sister can help by talking to ur Mom. The AL should be doing that, assisting. When she was admitted she was evalated. She is paying for the level of help she needs. Maybe the BP cuff sb taken away. The AL has to have an RN on duty who can check her BP daily. Your sister should never give up anything she has planned. The first time she cancelled an appt. she started a pattern. Your Mom is safe and should be joining in the activities. The one sister who has set boundries maybe can teach the other one.
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My word, there is a real problem with this woman! #1 hide the blood pressure cuff, #2 she should be seen by a psychiatrist and #3 she's playing all of you like a violin gone bad!
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There's always one. There's always one that gets the sh*t heaped on them but that's the way they grew up, that's all they know, they just can't say no. Eternal victims....There's something to be said for those massive families of olden days, like the Waltons, or Mormons - I wonder what they do about parents like this? Is there a schedule? 'this is your week to cater to mom' - or is there always just the one overworked overstressed slave, to drop everything ? The psychological sickness some parents instill in their kids is almost impossible to overcome. I have a friend who has a 91 year old narcissistic mother (to the max!) who treats her like a slave, calls her 10 times a day demanding things. And no matter how much my friend tries to establish boundaries, she always gives in, gives in, in addition to caretaking her b/f's mother! and then she is on the phone to me complaining. I tell her, no one can insult you or take advantage of you without your permission. It's hard. It must be very hard for you, LW, at a distance. (my brother lives across the country and claims he, too, is very stressed and worried about his mommy, but he only comes to visit a couple times a year. Leaving me to do it all. I would bet he hangs up the phone relieved after talking to me! 'well, she's still handling it! I did my duty, I called and talked for an hour, and gave some sympathy and plenty of good advice. Now, let's go out to dinner!'
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Your description of your mother sounds familiar. I suspect many families have people who suffer with this type of condition. I have conducted a lot of research on the subject because it really does disrupt a family. The patient has psychologically induced ailments that never can be confirmed. It's a lot of drama, pain, E.R., tests, suffering and attention getting. I've seen it for many years.

I have two stories about it. One family member after undergoing numerous tests and doctor visits to all kinds of specialist (thought it was his blood pressure too, but no) he was referred to a psychiatrist and diagnosed with CONVERSION DISORDER. Check it out. I bet it will seem very familiar. My dad accepted the diagnosis. (Pretty impressive for a man in his 70's) He went to therapy for a little while and went on medication for anxiety. It REALLY helped. He's only relapsed twice just a little in the last couple of years.

The other person refuses to accept that she has it, but has finally agreed to take anti-anxiety meds her doctor strongly recommends. Her symptoms are way out of control and now the family just ignores her. It doesn't matter. That type of psychologically ingrained illnesses are so deep rooted and resistant.......Good luck. Beware that it runs in families and you may see it in children and grandchildren.
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Cmagnum, that is my concern as well.

Kimber 166, precisely! She moved recently to the assisted living center, end of November.

Since she has returned, another resident and their spouse have been bringing mom her lunch to her room. This resident asked when she would be returning to play cards and the reply was the usual "oh, I just don't know when I'll be feeling better." The resident replied, it doesn't take that much energy to get downstairs to sit and use your brain a little. Now, that isn't an exact quote. However, I was happy to hear that a 'peer' told her that. I think it would be good to be around some others who are also in their elder years and not willing to mess with the pity party. Or it could completely go the other way and she never leaves her room then constantly complains how much she hates it there.

I'm an optimist and also an opportunist (if the optimist and pessimist are arguing about the glass of water, I may take a sip of it. -yes, I'm trying to be a little funny.) So I have hopes....meanwhile, do what I can for my sister and go from there. Thanks for all the suggestions, concerns, support....I appreciate it.
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The frightening danger that I see could happen without boundaries is that your sister could well find herself all alone one day singing her own song, I did it mom's way. I hope and pray that does not happen.
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if mom is in a place that is caring for her - why does she NEED so much help? If it is a WANT - have your sister do 1 afternoon a week and then disconnect the phone
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Thank you all for your observations and suggestions. :-)

I put together some future dates and messaged them to my sister. Hopefully they are far enough in advance for scheduling and she can go away to recharge without worrying about getting called.

I've pretty much said my piece. Suggested counseling to her. As much as it pains me to say this, there is nothing I can do if she can't tell mom 'no'. I can give her a break when the kids' school schedule allows. However, if my mom is going to continue exercising her preference as to which daughter she prefers to have around...there isn't much I can do about that.

There will be resentment towards me. Currently, my sisters and I are to have a conference call...probably over the weekend. I'm calling the facility today so I understand what all is available and what can be done via phone. My sister agrees that she is being manipulated, abused and that it is affecting her family and marriage. Right now, she is so close to it all...I think she feels trapped. Has mentioned how hard it is to pretend that she cares when really she wishes she'd be left alone. I can't relieve her until this summer which I put together dates for each month so she can make plans to get away. Try talking to my other sister to see what she can do, aside from calling mom every morning on her way home from work.
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My mom has often tells about her friend's kids and how they do everything for their mom - run errands, dr. appointments, take her shopping, the whole deal - so she can stay in her home (and doesn't have to pay for help). This was her way of getting us to do the same. Well, in the past 18 months, these people (the "kids") have passed away. Their mom is still in her home, now having to figure out Plan B. And I wonder how much their running around, trying to keep their mom's life from changing, affected their own health.

What your sister needs to realize, as many of us are seeing, is that we're losing contemporaries way too young these days. How many of us have seen people in their 60's and early 70's leaving us? The constant stress of life, caregiving and all are hitting the "sandwich generation" hard.
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