Taking care of Mom

One my Facebook contacts posted this Atlantic link today and it made me think about everything sister and I are doing to take care of Mom.

At 75, Mom now has a lot of health issues (diabetes, arthritis, and hypertension, among others) but the one condition that truly concerns us is her dementia. Because her short term memory is not very good she can’t remember to take her medications, refill prescriptions, and keep track of healthcare appointments.

The neurologist she’s been seeing has said there isn’t much that can be done about the dementia, although she did have Mom try some medications to halt its progression. Neither one agreed with her. One caused severe nausea, and the other made her “spaced out” according to stepfather, so it was stopped, too.

Mom’s husband is functionally illiterate. He runs a small business with the help of his son, and it is their main source of income. His business is offsite, so he has to leave their house at least five days a week to keep things running.

Stepfather told sister and I he could not deal with Mom by himself, so we stepped in to help. Sister and I had to deal with the following problems for my Mom.

  • Stepfather can’t keep up with her prescriptions, either, because he can’t read the bottles.
  • Stepfather admitted he can’t understand what Mom’s health care professionals tell him.
  • The income from stepfather’s business is keeping them ahead of their bill payments, but not by much. In past years he would routinely use credit card cash advances and home equity to get capital, and he is likely still doing that.
  • Mom’s social security income is minimal; she didn’t have a lot contributed to start with, plus she took an early distribution at 62.
  • About 10 years ago they moved to a rural property in the far corner of their county because stepfather wanted to move. Mom moved far away from her friends and social network, and since they are more remote she wasn’t able to build new ones. Social services are very scarce in their area.

Between the two of us, sister and I organized Mom’s meds and health care records. Now that doctor’s offices have to provide patient portals online, it’s easier for us to keep track of her appointments, medication changes, and tests, too. Sister and I also share notes and information through a shared Evernote notebook.

We did some research and found a private day program at a senior care community 10 miles from her house. Mom loves it, and she gets social interaction, meals and snacks, and also medication supervision while she’s there. We also researched transportation options, since Mom can no longer drive herself anywhere.

For the past six months my budget has included an average of $300 a month for “Mom care,” which is my half of the expense to send Mom to the senior day program twice a week. Yes, I said “half” the expense, since sister and I are splitting this expense between the two of us. Stepfather — her husband — doesn’t seem able to help out with this expense at all. Honestly, neither sister nor I have asked him to kick in any money, although I have thought about it and mentioned it to sister.

I know that sister thinks I would be an ungrateful child if I didn’t continue to kick in 50% of the cost of this senior day care for Mom. Maybe I am being ungrateful, but I think about how that money could go to my savings for buying a house, taking a vacation, or getting back into horseback riding. I don’t think that’s horrible or selfish, either. Mom is married, after all, and it would seem to make sense to me that her husband pay something towards her expenses.

And if you don’t read that Atlantic article in full, at least reflect on the title: The Crisis Facing America’s Working Daughters. Not sons, daughters. ‘Cause women are always expected to step up and do the care-taking in families. We’re supposed to set aside personal ambitions and desires so we can nurture children and elderly relatives, no matter what. Stepfather said “You girls need to help your Ma,” and that’s how this all started.

I’m not trying to make this a rant against stepfather. Nor am I trying to rant against sister, who turned to stone when I mentioned to her a few weeks ago that I may just need to stop kicking in so much money every month so I can save a bit more towards my personal goals.

There’s no question that sister is on the hook for more direct care of Mom these days since I now live 2,000+ miles away. Sister takes time off work to shuttle Mom to healthcare appointments most of the time. Having someone who can ask questions and advocate for Mom with her healthcare professionals is critical for her care, and stepfather made it clear he could not do so.

It just really, really sucks that as women we are expected to compromise our lives, to our potential detriment.

This is why I save so diligently in my retirement accounts. This is why I have Long Term Care Insurance. This is why I am trying to put together enough money to buy a little cottage where I can live until I’m carried out feet first.

I’m not going to rely on anyone else. I can’t.