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Caregiver health must be considered, too

Carol Bradley Bursack of Minding Our Elders

Dear Carol: I'm struggling with trying to find answers on how I can help my elderly mother. I'm 67, I'm retired and I live an hour away from my 87-year-old mom who has heart failure. Mom still lives alone in her house and this is very important to her. As her condition has worsened, she's required more help from my sister who lives just 10 minutes away. My sister runs all of Mom's errands, completes all of her chores and checks in on her several times a day. On top of this, my sister still works full time and won't be able to retire for a three more years. I visit Mom a couple times a month to give my sister a rest, but I fear as Mom's health continues to fail, that won't be enough. I feel guilty for not doing more but I am too far away. I love the town I live in as it is close to my daughter and grandchildren. Should I move? — BT

Dear BT: I'm sorry about your family's situation which is made no less heartbreaking because it's a common issue. What is less common is your compassion for your sibling who is doing the bulk of the caregiving and I commend you for that.

Some people would say that your mom needs to be forced to move to a nursing home. I'm not sure that I agree, at least at this time. She is making the choice to remain in her home and that's her right to some extent. The problem is that your sister is taking on too much, as you know, and that is your main concern. Is there any way that you can hire a reliable neighbor, even someone older but retired themselves, or a teenager to help out with errands and checking on your mom?

I don't think that you should move. You have to consider yourself and your future, too. Please don't feel guilty about that. Try to visit your mom and relieve your sister as often as you can and check out all options for hiring some help to relieve your sister. Paid in-home help agencies can work if there are some in your community.

The time could come that your mom must be moved to a nursing home. While the elder has rights, so does the family, and your sister's health can't be sacrificed for her mom, either.

If this must be done, whoever lives closest to the nursing home would be the advocate and frequent visitor while the other one visits as often as possible. Your mom won't like the move, but she would most likely adjust after some time. It helps to furnish the room with things from home. After the adjustment time, some people actually feel safer and many do well.

Best wishes to you. You are good people trying to do your best. That's all you can do.

Carol Bradley Bursack is an established columnist, blogger, and the author of a support book on caregiving. She hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at Carol can be reached at