Do I have the right to keep my Mom from returning to her home to live alone when I know she's unable to care for herself?


My 87-yr-old mother is suffering from dementia. I've been running back and forth between our two homes for over a year trying to care for her while trying to keep up with my job. Even with a pill organizer, she messes up her pills. She forgets whether she's eaten or not. She had cold cereal most evenings because it's easier. I cook dinners for her but she forgets they're in the refrigerator and the food goes bad and is thrown away. She has developed a nervous habit of scratching her legs and because her skin and blood is thin, her legs are always bloody, with bloody clothing, couches, bed, floors. She's very frail and weak and can hardly get up from a chair and walk due to arthritis. She no longer has any interest in TV, reading or internet and sleeps most of the time, just getting up to eat and go to the bathroom. She gets angry at me if I try to talk to her about any of this. I've been trying to get her to move in with me for two years.

Finally, last weekend she had two falls, just bruises but it frightened her enough that she agreed to move in with me. My daughter, son-in-law and I moved her hospital bed, bureau and most of her clothing and food to my house. I felt so relieved that I could now give her the care that she needed - one of the first things being a good bath! She's been eating three good meals a day. I've been putting anti-itch creams on her legs 3x/day and her legs look great and are healing up..

However, she is completely miserable and keeps saying that she's made a big mistake and wants to go home. I understand that she's homesick. But she will not admit that she needs help. I've tried talking to her about how exhausted I am and can no longer take care of two homes or give her the help she needs if she's not in my home and all she says is that she'll hire help until her money runs out. But she had help come in at one time and hated it and told them all to go! She also believes she can still drive, but there's no way I'm giving her cars keys back to her.

I feel completely unable to deal with this any longer. My nerves are shot, I can't sleep. I feel so sick. She told me tonight that if I don't take her home tomorrow, she'll call a cab and since she doesn't have her keys, she'll break a window to get in. Now I'm afraid to go to work in fear of what she'll do. If I take her home, then I'm back in the rat race of running back and forth there and knowing she's not getting the care she needs. I tried two years ago having her doctor talk to her but it made no difference. I don't know what to do. i have a durable POA but she hasn't been declared incompetent. I'm not sure how incompetent someone has to be to be declared incompetent. She told me today that she would rather be dead than stay in my home, although she said that I've been very good and kind to her.

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tried0659 and Shepard raise an interesting point. Why is your mother so miserable at your house? I suspect she is miserable away from her own surroundings rather than miserable at your house -- but maybe she can tell you.

Mom may not be able to articulate her reasons -- or maybe she'll surprise you. But give her lots of time. I once had a conversation with an unusually articulate friend who had dementia. He seemed to ignore one of my comments. The next day I got an email from him assuring me he wanted to respond to me but it took him a day to process the topic and find his words!

But in a way, this story reminds me of what we see posted again and again -- the person with dementia who wants to "go home" and who miserably mourns the loss of "home." My husband did this even though he was at home. Many other posters have also reported loved ones who want to go home even though they are already home. Some experts theorize that what they really want is to get back to a place and time when things were normal, before their minds became so foreign to them.

If this is the sense in which your mother longs to go home, then getting her back to her house probably won't satisfy her longing. She may blame her dissatisfaction on having strangers in there, etc. but the real problem -- of not feeling like herself -- will not be resolved.

Mom may or may not be able to articulate why she wants to go home, but trying to figure out the reasons may provide clues about how to proceed.
Helpful Answer (7)

You poor honey. You must be worried sick. Call aps tomorrow and request a wellness check. Call her doctor and alert him to the fact that she's home alone. I would not go over and help her out. I'm sorry if thst sounds cruel. But you have to make sure that you're alive to advocate for her; the stress and sleeplessness that you're describing could kill YOU. where would mom be then?
Helpful Answer (7)

Do you have right? Boy, that is hard. You certainly have reason on your side, and morality. But legally? Maybe not so much, if she is still competent. We place an extremely high value on self-determination. A competent adult is allowed to make decisions -- even bad decisions, even potentially self-destructive decisions.

The best outcome would be to convince her to stay with you willingly. I wonder if staying a little longer would convince her. Could you say, "We will have time to move you back a week from this Friday. Until then, let's just make the most of our time together." Any possibility she might be willing to wait, and that she might come to like her new location?

I think the next best outcome (or maybe even better than staying with you) would be to have her move into a care center with 24 hour staff available. I don't think that sounds very likely until/unless a crisis occurs.

Third choice would be for her to live at home with adequate help. This you might have a chance at negotiating.
1) Mom, I can no longer keep up two households. You have to bring in help to clean and to do your laundry. This would only be for a few hours each week, but it MUST be done.
2) You have to have a visiting nurse for whatever the doctor thinks you need. This might be to help make sure you take your pills, and also to care for your legs.
3) If the doctor thinks it might help prevent falls if you build up your strength and he/she wants to order physical therapy for you, I want you to accept this. It will be only for a few weeks.
4) Let's look into Meals on Wheels for you, so you have one complete meal delivered to you each day. OR Let's get a personal care attendant to come in each afternoon to help you with your evening meal and take you for a walk in nice weather.
5) You must accept an aide to come in and help you shower or bathe once a week.

What I'm suggesting is trying to use your leverage to get her to accept some help in her own home, and not just vaguely "some help" but a specific list of help you think necessary.

I sincerely believe that getting her pills regularly, keeping reasonably clean, eating regularly and wholesomely, and having minor medical needs attended to promptly would extend her lifespan. But realize that she is not going to live forever no matter where she is. (She could fall at your house as well as at her house.) And the timing isn't necessarily under your control.

I agree with Maggie that if she goes home it may not last long. She may fall, or become disoriented, or dehydrated, or have some other crisis. If she winds up in the hospital they may strongly discourage her from going home, especially if you firmly explain that you can only provide limited help in her but are willing to care for her in yours.
Helpful Answer (6)

Hubblegal, big hug to you. You have worked so hard to do everything for your mother and live up to every principle of elder care ethics. You have, as we say in rugby-watching circles, played a blinder. Your mother couldn't have a more caring or faithful child.

The 'home' she so desperately wants to go back to is her own life where she was independent, healthy and happy. It's gone now. Time has nuked it.

I'm searching for a way of saying this that isn't totally bleak, but I'm not sure there is one, not if we're going to stick to reality.

Your mother needs care. She doesn't want it, she's mourning the loss of her independence and her life as she knows and likes it, and she feels wretched; and that is heart-breaking, but it doesn't change the reality that there is nothing you can do to restore "Home" to her.

So, with or without her, you need to work out what environment constitutes her second best option, and then put that plan into option. Given the strain it places on you and your family to have your terribly upset mother living with you, I'd suggest that somewhere safe where you can visit her would be a better bet than your home - but this is all detail.

The key thing is to separate the practical planning from the emotional turmoil. The latter can wait, but the former can't. Get your mother assessed for legal capacity purposes (you don't need her consent to that) then use your POA to care for her. I haven't a shred of doubt that this would be totally in her best interests, because I've never read a more impressive account of loving care than yours.
Helpful Answer (5)

hubblegal, I use to be the handyperson in my household, use to do all the landscaping, had a super clean and very organized house, use to shovel my driveway and my part of my parents' driveway, I use to get 20 bags of mulch for them and drop the bags wherever Dad needed them.... I thought nothing could stop me unless I get hit by that preverbal bus.

Well I got stopped, was diagnosed with cancer that came out the blue with no warning and no markers saying that would happen to me.... yikes... my life had totally changed.... I can't do landscaping any more... forget shoveling driveways.... just taking laundry downstairs to the washer can be tiring... I am thinking of hiring cleaning people to come in twice a month.

Your life can change overnight.... then what would your Mom do? Of course your Mom will want you to continue doing what you did before. It is so very difficult to stop doing things. I had to cut back 75% on driving my parents, no more Walmart/Target or going to the mall, I will take them to doctor appointments, and pick up their groceries which are already for pick-up when I drive up to the store [I order them on-line].

Imaging trying to find your Mom a qualified assistant living facility when you are trying to recover from a serious illness.
Helpful Answer (5)

hubblegal, this is a situation that many of us find ourselves in. Even when other arrangements make a lot more sense for everyone, our parents want to remain in their own home. I know that I couldn't have pried mine out with a shoe horn. I don't know if there is anything we can do as long as they are competent except to help them the best we can. Maybe you can talk to your mother and say it is okay to go home, but only if she hires some help. It will be expensive, but maybe that would work. And if she wants to get rid of the help, just tell her she'll have to move back in with you. Let us know how it goes. Good thoughts coming your way.
Helpful Answer (4)

Lordy. I think you should get Adult Protective Services involved. Most states include "self-neglect" in their criteria for assistance. Call them. If they can't help, they will certainly be able to quickly steer you in the right direction.

Because she is completely disrupting your life and has threatened to do things that are unsafe if she isn't allowed to go home, I would try to talk her into staying 'til the weekend so you can move her things back there; failing that agreement, I think I'd just take her home.

It'll only be for a short time, I can almost guarantee.
Helpful Answer (4)

"Remind" her she has to go to the doctor before she can go home - "don't you remember we talked about that when you came here? you feel well enough to go see the doctor yet? Ok, we can go...(fill in appointment date, circle on calendar, count own days, whatever)" And take her for a comprehensive geriatric evaluation somewhere. Make sure they include a social worker visit with you to help sort through options. I suspect you *will* be told she is not safe to be by herself and you can insist on some other plan, which may involve getting guardianship or at least getting the letters of incapacity that put a POA, if you already have one, into effect.

Is she actually capable of calling a cab and breaking a window to get in? Does she even remember falling?
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Your doctor wimped out, you do need a geriatrician or comprehensive geriatric eval, and the help fromAPS. Big sigh. Wish it was easier.
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Hub, one more thought. When your mom ends up in hospital, for dehydration, a fall, whatever...make sure that she is admitted (not there for observation) and when the discharge planning starts, make it VERY clear to all that she is not coming to stay with you, even temporarily, or those whole cycle will start again. Most people of our moms' age just can't picture living anywhere but home and fight tooth and nail against the idea of assisted living...and then they adjust beautifully. Sometimes it's our own fear for them that keeps us from suggesting a nice placement with good food, socialization and activities. But it's amazing how well this can work when they are told by the professionals that it's time to take this step.
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