Parenting Your Aging Parents

Parenting Your Aging Parents – grandmother care, dementia,

Francine Moskowitz

Dear Francine and Robert:

My name is Sarah. I am married, with three children. In addition, I am my grandmother’s primary caregiver.

Grandma is 91 years old, and has problems with her heart, senility, and a bad hip that makes walking difficult. Lately, she has begun to exhibit manic and depressive episodes.

When Grandpa passed away last year, the family talked me into taking Grandma into my home. My aunts and uncles said I was best suited, but I now think they simply didn’t want to take on the responsibility.

This is no surprise, since she has been very difficult to get along with for many years. In fact, she has alienated most of the family. Now that I know of her mental disease, however, I’m thinking of telling the whole family in hopes they’ll forgive and forget – and join with me in the caregiving.

Do you think revealing this diagnosis to the rest of the family would be a good idea?

Signed, Loving But Limited

Dear Loving But Limited:

Of course you should share information about your grandmother’s illnesses with the rest of the family, particularly information about her mental problem and how that may have influenced her behavior toward them.

But we think you should not hold out much hope for a major reconciliation between your grandmother and her children (your aunts and uncles).

First of all, we suspect there is much more negative history between them than you may realize. In all probability, fertile ground for an emotional freeze-out was prepared long before Grandma ever developed her current diagnosis.

If she had been close with her children, a sudden change in her behavior due to mental illness would not have produced such a permanent breach between them.

Also, it’s unlikely her children have no inkling of her current mental problems. If there were an underlying basis for warm relations between them, they’d have come to you seeking information about her long before now.

In our experience, even the worst excesses of behavior resulting from illness can be overcome. Breaches occur, of course, but one or both sides start feeling lonely and sad, and quickly make overtures to repair the damage. But since this did not happen in your family, what you most likely have is a situation where sudden behavior changes created an opportunity and an excuse for children who already resented, feared, or even hated their mother to stop pretending there was any warmth between them.

They’re not going to change their feelings toward your grandmother. So conduct yourself accordingly, with as much consideration for them as they have shown you.

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Dear Francine and Robert:

My aging father has been living with us for several years, and we are very happy to be helping him live safe, healthy, and in comfort.

But lately he has begun to exhibit fairly blatant signs of dementia, including forgetting where he is, and wandering aimlessly.

During the day we can watch him. But at night we’re asleep, and we can’t monitor him very well. On a few nights he has left his room, and last night he left the house. This worries us greatly.

Is there any way we can keep him safe at night without tying him to his bed?

Signed, No Prison Guards

Dear No Prison Guards:

There is technology on the market that will allow you to more easily monitor your father’s whereabouts 24/7, and keep him secured in the house while you are sleeping.

The first step is to put an alarm system on all the doors and windows of your home. Set it every night before you go to sleep, and don’t show your father how to shut it off!

It’s useful, too, to keep changing the alarm sound you hear when the system is triggered. That way, you don’t get used to it and sleep through the next emergency.

If you’re handy with tools, you can buy the alarm system components at any local electronics store, and install them yourself. One good way to make installation easier is to use wireless components. This eliminates any need to laboriously run wires throughout the home and hide them behind moldings or inside walls.

If you’re not handy with tools, you can find an alarm installation company to do the work for you. The hardware itself is not too expensive, and installation, while not cheap, is a one-time cost. What really boosts the cost of a security system are the month-after-month charges for “monitoring” by a security company. But you don’t need that service just to keep your father inside the house, so you can probably choose to live without it.

You can also install closed circuit TV cameras to cover Dad’s room and various remote areas within the house, such as the laundry room, the garage, and the basement. Then while you’re in working or relaxing you can easily check the monitors to learn Dad’s whereabouts.

You might also want to reverse the door handle on Dad’s bedroom, making it lockable from the outside. This will help keep your father from wandering when you’re asleep.

We know “lock down” is an emotional term that offends many people. Yet in your circumstances, it’s probably the most effective strategy to help keep your father safe when no one is awake to be responsible for him.

But never lock your father in his room until you’ve installed monitoring equipment. Otherwise he could get into trouble in there and you’d never know it.

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(c) Copyright 2003 by Francine and Robert Moskowitz

Francine and Robert Moskowitz are the authors of “Parenting Your Aging Parents, How To Protect Their Quality of Life — And Yours!” This 300 page hardcover book has been widely acclaimed as the classic work in the field since 1991. It is available at bookstores, or directly from Key Publications. The toll-free order line is 800-735-0015. The Web site is: The cost is $21.95 plus $3.95 shipping and handling. If you wish, you can ask Francine and Robert Moskowitz your own question for this column by emailing them at:

COPYRIGHT 2003 Key Publications

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group