Dear Amy: My husband’s grandmother “Jenny” is 94 and lives alone. Up until three years ago, her son was her main caregiver. When he died, her daughter offered to take her in, but she lives a few states away and Jenny wasn’t interested in moving. Currently her support system consists of a woman who comes once a month to clean, and weekly visits from either my mother-in-law or myself to drop off groceries and supplies.
She has friends from her church take her to doctor appointments. She doesn’t want family to go, probably because her front of being able to live alone would be blown.
She uses a walker and cannot drive. Mentally she is still fairly alert, but her living situation isn’t pleasant because of her limited mobility and incontinence issues.
Good, kind, reasonable caregivers have been arranged with her consent to help for a few hours a week, but she’ll cancel because she feels she cannot afford them, although she can.
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Her daughter calls weekly to check in, but she can’t do much beyond that, because Jenny won’t agree to have help. If someone wandered in off the street, they’d most likely be horrified by the smell of her house, the condition of her clothing and her general hygiene.
From our point of view, we have two choices: maintain the status quo with grocery deliveries and regular check-ins, or notify her doctors and perhaps social services, which would force her to accept additional help but would make us the bad guys and possibly alienate her.
Dear Worried: “Dropping off groceries and supplies” once a week is not caregiving. It is neglect. You should be entering the house, going through the refrigerator for expired foods, helping to put things away and helping “Jenny” in lots of little and large ways while you are there. Dropping things off only highlights your family’s neglect of this elderly woman.
The daughter who calls her 94-year-old mother once a week (!) should visit in person. If she can’t afford the trip, family members should assist. During this visit, the family should gather as a group, along with a social worker, to discuss local programs and services available to her, such as Meals on Wheels. Your local Office on Aging can help you get started.
A family member should accompany her to doctor’s visits. If she doesn’t want you in the exam room, sit in the waiting room and ask to speak with the doctor. You simply have to be brave enough to have her be mad at you in order to assume some responsibility for her well-being.
Not knowing what to do is no excuse for doing so little. A concerned party can make an anonymous report of elder neglect by contacting Adult Protective Services.
Dear Amy: “Maternal but not a Mother” wondered when to intervene if you see a child in a dangerous situation. The answer is, immediately. Who cares if people think you’re overreacting?
Dear Intervene: People seem more comfortable intervening when an animal is at risk than a child. I agree with you – act first and deal with awkwardness later.
Email Amy Dickinson at firstname.lastname@example.org.