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Conserving estate money no excuse for risking elder's health

Carol Bursack of Minding Our Elders

Dear Carol: My mom moved into the memory unit of an assisted living facility last year and she loves it. She's very social so this environment is perfect for her. Now, my brother has suddenly decided that he wants Mom to come and stay with him for the winter since he lives in a warmer climate. He's the man so he has the power of attorney.

Mom doesn't want to leave her comfortable little apartment, but she's said if he really wants her there for a time, she should do it. My fear is that the move could make her dementia worse. My brother says he just wants to spend more time with Mom, but he's never been that close so the only true motivation that I can see is that he knows how expensive AL is and he's struggling financially. I think that he wants to save the estate money. I'm not trying to keep Mom in my town to be selfish. I just want her happy. How do I handle this? — SD

Dear SD: Sadly, variations of this situation are happening all around us. We'd like to think that people like your brother just want to spend time with their parent, and many do. However, there are adult children who hate to see the inheritance they counted on being "eaten up" by the care the parent needs.

I'll give your brother the benefit of a doubt as far as motivations go. The real consideration is your mother's welfare. She still has her instinctive drive to be with her children if they need her and she apparently feels that your brother needs her.

Likely, her decision-making skills are compromised by her disease, and she has no understanding that this abrupt change could push her further into the decline of dementia. Since time and space would mean little to her now, it's possible that in her mind this trip means going across town to stay with your brother for a couple of days.

Most medical professionals will tell you that people who are living with dementia require familiar surroundings and routines. Any change can temporarily confuse them, but you are correct in that a significant change like your brother is suggesting could cause irreparable harm. Check with your mom's doctor. If she agrees with you, ask her to write a letter to your brother telling him about the risk involved in this move. If your brother is asking for your mom to visit for the right reason, that should be enough for him to change his mind. He can come to visit her anytime he wants.

Even if his motivations are less pure, the doctor's opinion may still be enough to change his mind once he understands the possible consequences of moving his mom for the winter. If he still insists on the move, temporary or not, and tries to invoke his POA, you may have to seek legal intervention. We can hope it won't come to that.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at She can be reached at