New caregiver questions

cearbhaillJune 3, 2007

I am now a caregiver.... I think. My 86 year old mother in law has moved in with my husband and I, so I may just be a "cohabitor", but I sure feel like a caregiver. She moves around very little as walking is difficult for her even with a walker, and is pretty deaf and refuses hearing aids (?).

She is used to being very independent having lived alone for the last 10 years since being widowed, but we wanted to move to a different state and so all decided that it would be best is she came along.

It seemed like a good idea...

We are clashing over the smallest things. The normal things too (her TV is too loud 24/7, she hates my cooking and wants hers prepared separately, it's too cold, it's too hot, there's a cat hair on the floor), but little things that shouldn't be a problem. We did all just move 1200 miles, and changed our living arrangements dramatically so it is normal to experience an adjustment period. But our ways of living are very different, and I am looking for some advice on how to proceed.

I understand that she has lost all control of her life and that she might try to exert some control just "because", but there are areas where I draw the line and this is where the clashes are coming in.

Her eating habits are atrocious. She is a colon cancer survivor and so the excuse of "it doesn't agree with me" often comes into play. But then she will eat Hershey bars all day to the point of explosive diarrhea (and I'm talking hourly), then hand me a pile of pooped up clothes to wash. Am I supposed to be the food police and deny her candy and refuse to buy it? Isn't that treating her like a child? Many, many days she eats only candy and turns down good, real food.

I keep (as much as possible) a chemical free home. This means I need to be careful about cleaning supplies, and the MIL is simply addicted to chemicals. She wants me to bleach her dishes after washing them because "soap doesn't get them clean". This was our first clash.

She wants to spray bug spray. There are no bugs, and even if there were I can deal with them is a safe manner. I haven't used a chemical pesticide in 15 years, and plain and simple do not want them in my home. I threw it all away- second major clash.

She wants to saturate our air with Lysol spray and I am still sneezing from the last go round. Her can is nearly empty and I just know there is going to be another argument over it when she asks me to buy her another.

Don't laugh at the pettiness of this issue- I feel very strongly that I should still be in charge of how my house is run and she feels denied of what she views as life's necessities. Our new home is small and I just can't have all this stuff drifting around.

Never mind that she is flushing non flushable Chlorox wipes- they disappear out of the bathroom at an alarming rate, there are never any used ones in the trash, and I fear for my plumbing.

My husband (her son) is out working hard to provide for all of us and the last thing he needs is problems when he gets home. He is fully on my side of this issue, yet she is still his mother and he is uncomfortable standing up to her. I will swallow a certain amount of frustration to spare him, but I will not sacrifice my health or that of my animals to her need to disinfect and debug the world. My house reeks of the stuff as it is.

How can I gently yet effectively communicate to her my feelings? I can't really talk to her- she becomes very defensive and tells me I'm being picky just to annoy her. I swear to God the woman just likes spraying stuff!

I should probably add that she has two other daughters, both of whom she has attempted living with, both of whom shipped her back to our area because she was difficult to live with. She is about out of options here.

Is this just part of the settling in process, and will soon pass? Or is it a sign that things will always be difficult? We have restructured our lives to help her out, we do everything she needs and she doesn't want for anything (except a can of Lysol) and she is still unhappy.

I am beginning to regret signing on for this and only agreed to it in the first place to make my husband's life easier. I love him to death and things would be fine if she would just be happy for what she has and let go of all the stupid little things she thinks she is missing.

Well that and maybe eat a vegetable.

At any rate I feel better for having vented. If you've made it this far- thanks. And please tell me things will get better.

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Connie Kru

I took my MIL in at 89. First year we had some real differences in how things were done-but you give a little (maybe a lot) and you stand firm on other things.
I would suggest you buy some flushable toilet wipes.
They work nice and won't be so hard on you system.
As for washing soiled clothes--this goes with caregiving.
I always used lysol (in the brown bottle) Don't know if you would consider that to Chemical for you-but you do need to use something to Sanitize. I know some people feel soap is ennough-I didn't.
Yes, you can limit her choc.-just don't buy large amounts.

Make sure you get out and have some Me time-very important, or you will burn out very fast.
I lasted 5 years and it was the most important job I had, besides raising my kids.
Good Luck.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2007 at 2:04PM
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I would hold firm on the chocolate. Let her rant about it and ignore it as best you can. That would cut down on the poopy diapers. Don't buy the bug spray and Lysol. The more you give in, the longer for her to accept that this is your house, not hers. And you are sorry that you can't run it to suit her.
Then, I would give in on rinsing her things with clorox. It's really a good idea especially if she is soiling herself. Buy only the flushable wipes. Chlorine is one of the basic elements and is the primary way of making our water supply safe. It's not really what you think of when you think of manufactured harmful chemicals. It's a part of our a healthy environment.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2007 at 4:14PM
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I have been on all sides of this coin, and may I say bless you, for taking on and taking in your mother-in-law. I work as a caregiver (nurses aide), have been the one living in another older woman's home (since then, I always say there is one woman to a kitchen....long story), and I totally understand where you're coming from. I can't tell you it will get better, but I hope it does. I would say this is all normal, and I wouldn't trivialize the spray bottle issue. And all these things aren't "just you", since you said she has attempted living with 2 other daughters. If this is YOUR house, she needs to be respectful of your wishes. I realize hubby is in a tight spot, this being his mom and all. What's his thoughts on all this? Does she have other options available? Excellent advice in the 2 previous responders. Try and keep your sense of humor, which seems like you're doing, and remember that "me" time. Take care of you too. Come here and vent when needed.
Emma in SC

    Bookmark   June 3, 2007 at 7:18PM
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Oh- thanks everyone for responding.

To clarify a couple of points:
She has flushable wipes for use on her body- two different brands. She also has Chlorox wipes that she likes to clean her toilet seat with- these are the ones I suspect she is flushing inappropriately.

And I don't mind using bleach in the laundry- it is the dishes she wants me to rinse with bleach. Bowls, forks, glasses, etc. This is unreasonable in my view- I don't see the need to use bleach in a kitchen when the dishwasher has a "sanitize" setting.

I am not complaining about washing soiled clothing- I worked with animals my entire career and just retired early in order to be able to care for her. What I think is silly is her insistence on eating things she knows full well will make her ill.

My husband is a gem and to be honest her behavior is bothering him much more than it is me- he has much less patience than I do, and is hurt that she isn't happy with all he/we are doing for her. He feels that three months ago she would have killed to be living with him and now nothing is right or good enough. As I mentioned he is behind me 100%, but easily caves when she manipulates him, which she is quite good at.

I don't believe there are other options besides a Medicaid nursing home, no- she has made some very poor decisions in her life and has no assets.

I will do everything I can to make it work, but there is a limit to how unhappy I am willing to be to make her happy (if I am making sense there). I have to have alone time with the husband- and she feels excluded if we close our bedroom door. I swear the next time she hollers "what are you doing in there" I am going to be frank and spell it out for her :)

When push comes to shove (as with the chlorox/dishes issue) she does give in to me, but it angers her that she has to do so and that makes her feel even more powerless. We have given her the largest bedroom and bath and try to leave as much up to her as she can maintain so she feels some control in her life, but she can't do much of anything. Thursday I wasn't vacuuming her room enough and Friday I vacuumed it for much too long. I believe it is argument for arguments sake and a way of garnering attention. It is very sad, but I can't be jumping through hoops just because it makes her feel vital.

Again- thank you for your comments.
It is very heartening to know I have somewhere to go to spill my thoughts.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2007 at 8:05PM
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It sure sounds as if you are bending over backwards to try to help her. One thing that comes to my mind is because of her age, she may be getting the first signs of some sort of dementia. If so, she really may not be totally aware of the effect of her actions on you. This could get worse instead of better. Yes, you may have to treat her like a child. No more candy or other goodies.
now about the bleach.....can you just lie and tell her that you put some in the dishwasher?

    Bookmark   June 3, 2007 at 9:21PM
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You are welcome to come here and spill your thoughts any day!

One of the hardest things that caregivers of aged parents have to face is the role reversals. They changed our diapers, for heavens' sake, how can we tell them what to do?

As for the products you use in your home, just don't take her shopping when you go, Only buy products that you are comfortable with, and that means no candy. If you don't buy the candy, how is she getting it? ANd make sure that everyone else in the house is on the same page. So if someone else takes her out shopping, no purchases allowed of those items. Nothing non-flushable, nothing sprayable, nothing that you cannot control. Even if you must change some products you use, it will prevent her mis-use of the products.

And stick by your guns. A problem with caregiving is what I call the "twisting in the wind" syndrome. You spend every day reacting, waiting for the next event to which you must react. So your own life lacks personal direction, as well as time off, restorative time, hobbies, just quiet reflection and time of your own. And this just leads to caretaker burn-out and fatigue. And if you are worn down, who will take care of your MIL? Your husband?

So Lesson #1: Take care of yourself. And that means setting limits and borders. And letting some things just roll off your back. Develop a thicker hide---it will help! Set time tables for some things and limits for other things. Dinner is dinner. Fix her a PBJ if she doesn't like what you fix. And don't cook anything else. Offer is your entree or a PBJ (or whatever), period. And don't offer anything but the same alternative each time. Don't make it PBJ one day and tuna salad the next day. Make it the same boring thing every meal. And don't feel guilty, either.

I think you are doing an outstanding job, and you are fortunate that your husband is supportive. Just make sure that you and he are always on the same page and that your MIL NEVER sees him disagree with you. Take anything like that behind closed doors. This might be tough for him, but it will work best.

Things will probably smooth out as you all adjust after the move, but do give a lot of attention to making the rules and stick to them.

And come back here and vent anytime!


    Bookmark   June 4, 2007 at 2:09PM
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Thank you Helene, for the sage advice.
I believe that I am simply uncomfortable telling an elder what she can and cannot have. We are raised with the constant reminder to "Respect your elders!" and never argue or talk back, and old habits die hard. I'm en "elder" myself now- you'd think I could get past childhood dogma.

As far as my husband and I never disagreeing in front of her- yes, we have managed that one so far. All of our discussions take place far away from her and we come to an agreement then go over the "power points" a couple of times to reinforce things in our brains. The whole situation is very like caring for a child with the added difficulty of respecting their autonomy more. It is a slippery slope.

Things are going much more smoothly lately. We are now only six weeks into our new living arrangements and problems were bound to crop up. With the help of everyone here I hope to be able to give her a proper home in her declining years and hold on to my marriage and sanity at the same time.

All I ever wanted was to give my husband the ability to look back without regrets after she is gone. I need for him to feel that we did right by his Mother and did the best we could.

My next rant will have me wondering why his siblings remain so uncaring... another post, another day.

Thanks everyone.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2007 at 1:02PM
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I'm a lurker on this forum-- mostly because my dm lives next door, not in the same house. I'm not sure I could take it if she did :-)

My mom has lived here 8 years. The role reversal is the worst... can't tell you how many times I've walked home muttering under my breath, "someone has to be the adult. someone has to be the adult. SOMEONE has to be the adult :-)"

Well, I can tell you from my experience, that eventually you wear out and take the role of adult because you can't stand the strain another second. You start setting rules, boundries and limitations with consistency and firmness. You develop a tougher hide and grieve for the person and the relationship that's gone. And you pray to God that you won't do this to your own kids... at least that's my experience :-)

On good days, she's still my mom-- but those days are few and farther between. On bad days there is nothing you can do but find a sympathetic ear and vent a little.

All that to say, I really feel for you. Hang in there ! It takes awhile to adjust.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2007 at 9:24PM
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Wow, I am so sorry to hear of your situation, but so thankful that you posted. I am not a caregiver yet, but I feel my time is coming. My MIL is 87 and we can tell she is starting to need some guidance. She already corrects so many things that I do, I know if/when she moves in with us it will be difficult. As I said, I really appreciate your post and pr@y that you find strength for your needs.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2007 at 2:43PM
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Hi : I happened to pop in here from the home forum (cooking)
I have had the same problem. My mother moved in with us and acted the same way. It was running my wife down. I had to put a stop to it and let her know that we were here to do whatever we could to make her happy "BUT" don't do an overkill, on your demands, because the world doesn't revolve around you. I guess it's like Tough Love. Putting your foot down and maybe even stamping it, once in a while. We even threatened to put her into a nursing home,
which we wouldn't have done. That helped a great deal.

Please !!! Don't spray Lysol or other sprays and breath in the fumes. Read the labels !!!!!! Most of them are harmful.
It is good to use Bleach in your laundry for sanitizing.
If you do dishes with it I would use rubber gloves but I wouldn't breathe in the fumes of bleach either.Don't go by the commercials on TV.

My mother passed away after living with us for 2 years.
My wife was so run down that she got sick herself and still is but I don't want to go into that.
All I can say to you is, Don't continue and make yourself ill. Just tell her the way it is. You will prepare food for her and freeze it. I'll buy you something from a restaraunt. BUT !!!!! you have to give a little and help us to help you.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2007 at 2:48AM
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It's mostly settling out now. The only current issue is the television noise- we are not TV people and hers comes on at 6AM and goes until midnight. As she can't hear zip it is booming the whole time.
We have on several occasions tried to work out a compromise, but she can't understand why she can't "do what I want".
Because you live with other people, dear.
She refuses to discuss getting new hearing aids- it's baffling. I think she likes all the attention.

It's a very sore spot. She dislikes keeping her bedroom door shut as she feels "locked in", but I swear if I hear one more Paris Hilton update or game show song my head will explode. I don't enjoy living in my own home.

It is just a tough situation all around. Half the time I feel extraordinarily sorry for her, and the other half of the time I wish she would just leave.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2007 at 7:05AM
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They make devices for TV-watching for the hearing-impaired. Ear-bud type things that allow her to control her own volume without excessive volume for everyone else. Might help out in that one area. Google "TV ears" and similar. You'll find many alternatives.

I can understand her clinging to her desire for independence. However, she's NOT independent. Don't allow her to become a tyrant. She has to do her part, too. Her age and relationship don't cover the ground. She should not be allowed to act as if it does.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2007 at 1:04PM
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I confess that I have had little experience with dealing with this sort of thing. Therefore, I tend to think of dealing with someone in this condition as I would a child. I think I would give her a choice....either you get new hearing aids or that TV goes out the door! Would it work? I have no idea. I don't think I could live with the constant sound of a TV. I would go batty!
Good Luck.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2007 at 2:23PM
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PS: If you haven't looked at hearing aids for a while, check out Oticon. Things have really changed. Better sound processing and no more ear-molds. Look at Epoq and Delta designs. I'm speaking from long experience and recent purchase/use experience for self and 95-year-young mother.

Thinking she may not even be hearing/understanding you when you speak to her.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2007 at 6:13PM
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Asolo is right. Hearing aid technology has changed considerably in the last five years. There are a lot of good products out there. Another consideration is the need for a new hearing test. Her hearing may very well have deteriorated recently, and she may need a certain kind of aid to deal with her new situation.

How is her vision? Could closed captioning help? When my husband takes a nap in the bedroom, I turn the TV down almost all the way and just rely on the captioning. Most programs are captioned now, and more & more channels are adding that feature.

I'm hard of hearing and wear hearing aids. In addition to the closed captioning, my husband strung a special speaker that sits on the end table next to my end of the couch. That way I can hear the TV without raising the volume too high. Could something like that be done for her bedroom TV?

    Bookmark   June 20, 2007 at 7:45PM
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Well- she has every TV listening device and special speaker known to man and won't use any of them. She doesn't like closed captioning because it goes to fast. She can't afford new hearing aids to start with, but refuses to discuss it anyway and for the life of me I can't figure out why.

I can't take her TV away- it doesn't feel right to me to be so.... parental. She continues to lament "It's all I have in my life" and continues to ask us "Why can't I just do what I want to do?"

She's kept her bedroom door shut for a couple of days- since the last blow up. It helps tremendously but I hate to have her lock herself away like that.

What I don't understand is why she doesn't find something of interest to do besides watch CNN all day. There is all manner of art and crafts and books and puzzles and hobbies she could get involved in. She has limited herself to such a degree that she just sits in that damn chair all day watching news. Her mind is sharp as a tack (sharper than mine I kid you not), but JEEZ she is stubborn.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2007 at 7:42PM
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At her age, her fingers are probably too stiff for any type of arts and crafts. If all she's interested in is CNN, then that's it. Let her just sit there and watch. But keep trying to convince her that the noise bothers everyone else.

Her mind may not be as sharp as you think. Sometimes the elderly just don't seem to be able to concentrate enough to accomplish anything. The intelligence is still there, but the whatever that makes it work well, isn't.

Yeah, I feel for you about her stubborness. It's unbelievable how unmovable some can be.

When things begin to get you down, try to just let it go and think about yourself. You see, at 86, she knows she has very little time left and many a night, she will lie there on her pillow and wonder if this will be the night when it all ends.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2007 at 8:19PM
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Maybe get her out someplace with other people she HAS to interact with. Your describing somebody who's backing into their cave. Unhealthy for everyone.

Difficult situation. Probably takes more time than you really have to say nothing of effort and emotion.

However, you can't live like this. Your own family comes first. If a choice-point imposes itself upon you, don't hesitate.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2007 at 10:11PM
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Is there a senior center where you live? The one in our town has programs geared to the abilities of the seniors. Some just sit there, but they are in a controlled environment and out of the house for a while. This would allow you to have some "me" time.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2007 at 11:41PM
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If the closed captioning goes by too fast for her, it may be (as agnespuffin suggested) that her mind isn't as sharp as it was. Her ability to process information quickly has probably deteriorated. In addition, her vision may have diminished too. Talking about new hearing aids may be an unpleasant reminder that her physical abilities have declined.

I certainly understand your frustration with her unwillingness to take on new activities. Her withdrawal is the way she is coping with her diminishing physical abilities, the move, and the lack of independent living. But you can only do so much. You can suggest and encourage. But, as others have pointed out, you can't let your own physical & mental health suffer. And you can't deprive your family.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2007 at 12:06AM
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She likes to get out and go places- not senior centers, though. My own Mother took her around to several and they were "full of old people!".

She would love nothing more than to go shopping every day, but won't use her wheelchair- insists on walking with her walker. Which would be fine if she could go better than 0.001 inches per minute. So from the front door to Wal-mart and back takes something like two hours for a bottle of shampoo I could have picked up in 15 minutes by myself.

I am most decidedly not a shopper as I hate leaving home. I am also restoring a older home by myself and do have other duties around the house so have limited time for this sort of thing as well. I take her where she needs to go but recreational outings are between her and her son (my husband) on weekends.

That was the deal when I took this on- I do the caretaking necessary but I am not a paid companion, nor am I the entertainment committee. Her mind is plenty sharp and I do expect her to take some responsibility for finding things to stay interested in.

I'm harsh, I know. I watched my Mother throw away her own life in order to take care of other people and I will not do that. There's a limit and this is it.

Wow. I got really aggravated there. That alone tells me I need to think about it! Great resource, this venting thing!

    Bookmark   June 22, 2007 at 6:45AM
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