In a way, this is how it all started. Years earlier I wrote an article titled Dealing With Adult Parents. At that point, I was starting to notice that Mom’s habits and memory seemed to be changing a bit. It was scary, but I tried putting a positive spin on it; most of us are in denial early on until we can’t be any longer.

Mom and Dad

Eventually that positivity changed, and I spent more time being stressed and angry, feeling guilty and confused, and like I was the worst son in the world. Truthfully, it’s not knowing what to do or what’s going on that adds pressure, and being an only child doesn’t make it much easier.

Trying to protect your parent’s dignity and privacy is intriguing because you know there are some things you should do but won’t, and other things you bypass because you don’t really notice them. Maybe other people do, but… well, they’re our parents after all.

What I eventually did was call a service called Visiting Nurses that was in the area where Mom lived. The lady came and talked to Mom for a while, then she and I had a conversation in the dining room of Mom’s house. The meeting was both intriguing and illuminating. It was both because I didn’t know what to expect, and I got more from it that I was and wasn’t ready for… or was I?

Once we got talking, she asked me what Mom’s income was; I had no idea. She asked me to ask Mom if she knew what her income was, so I did, knowing she wouldn’t know the answer. She not only didn’t know the answer, but she didn’t understand the question. That’s when the social worker decided that she needed to give me a dose of reality… because she was going through the same sort of thing with her family at the time.

There are lots of options for eldercare that most people don’t know about until they’re confronted with having to deal with it. I was definitely in that category. A big part of what I’d been doing was hiding from knowing the kind of money Mom has because I didn’t think I had the right to know, even though my name was on the checking account.

I also had the power of attorney, along with being her health care proxy and the insurance beneficiary… everything, since I was the only one left. Yet, the only thing I really knew anything about was the health care proxy, as I’m a health care finance consultant, thus I was familiar with that document.

Once I mentioned some of this, she said that I needed to take charge and be the responsible one. She said that, like her mother and plenty of other older parents in this country, they get to a point where they don’t know what’s going on, don’t really care, and that makes them vulnerable. Also, since there were lots of options, and most of them depend on how much or little money there is in the household, that proper decisions can’t be made without knowing all these things beforehand.

She then told the tale of her mother’s dementia and how it started to manifest. By the time she and her sisters realized what was happening, her mother was overdrawn and had spent all of her money buying things on TV, the same things over and over again without realizing she already had them. They ended up having to declare bankruptcy, and while she took over the banking for her mother, she and her sisters put money together to pay off many of the bills that were included in the bankruptcy filing; that was scary!

Me & Mom, 1981

She also ended up putting her mother in assisted living and said her mother fought with them for a couple of weeks and then for a few days after being moved there. Then by the fourth day she started to calm down, and by the end of the week she’d forgotten that she even owned a house; wow!

In essence, she said that I had to make my mother my responsibility, start making all the decisions, and that I couldn’t worry as much anymore about how much it might upset her because she wouldn’t remember it for long. I thought back to the previous Thanksgiving, when I took the keys to her car so she couldn’t drive anymore. For close to 28 hours she called multiple times, saying all sorts of stuff to me, hanging up, calling again, and, in her way, chewing me out.

I had told her every day for 3 weeks that I didn’t want her driving in the winter and that one of her friends said she’d take her anywhere she wanted to go, and she agreed with me. It was my hope that if she didn’t drive in the winter that she’d get used to it and I could take her car forever.

Finally, days later, she called and said “I lost my car keys.” I said “You did?” That was it. It had taken 2 days, but she forgot that I said I’d taken them, and two weeks after that she said we should go cancel the insurance and see what we could do with her car since she wasn’t going to drive anymore… and I didn’t say a thing; whew!

I started taking some important papers from the house, knowing that she didn’t know they existed anymore. I started intercepting the bank statements so I could keep track of her accounts, since I knew she didn’t understand them anymore, and had lost the ability to write checks months earlier.

Not being the best liar in the world, I learned how to agree with her when she said certain things, and stared at her when she said other things that came from left field and had no meaning. I did the best I could to maintain a lot of her privacy… at least in public… until I couldn’t any longer.

I had to work through the reluctance to intrude on her privacy because I needed to for her safety and long term health. I had to tell myself that I had to be the de facto parent. I did that just in time as, days later, Mom fell in the house, one of her best friends who stayed with her overnight called the ambulance to take her to the hospital, the hospital wouldn’t release her to go back to the house alone and that’s how she ended up living with me for the rest of her life.

I could myself lucky that I’d already started changing my mindset. I was also lucky that my ex had some experience in these types of situations. If you’re reading this and seeing the same kinds of signs in your loved ones, it’s better to be proactive rather than trying to ignore what’s going to be inevitable.

I know it’s a scary thought, but getting ahead of it makes things move along easier. I won’t lie; I still had a lot to learn in the first week she lived with me… ouch! lol