Helping an Elderly Parent

I have a featured Guest Blogger this week named Pete Springer. Pete is the author of They Call Me Mom, a book based on his 31 years of experience in the classroom.  Pete spent years caring for his mother and has generously written about it. I’m sharing his story over two weeks. Here is Part I:

One of the problems that our society is going to be forced to tackle head-on in this generation is the issue of caring for the elderly.  People are living longer, and while this is generally a good thing, it also creates a whole new set of problems.

My mom passed away two years ago at the age of ninety-two.  She lived a full and remarkable life.  Naturally, I was sad, but I also felt relieved she would no longer need to suffer.  I am not exaggerating when I say she was the best person I ever knew.  More than once, I had the thought, how did I get so lucky?  Here are some of my experiences from her later years.

When Dad Passed Away

Every marriage has its own set of rules and traditions.  My dad handled most of the financial aspects of my parents’ marriage, so when he passed ten years before my mom, she had a whole new set of things to learn.  One of my older brothers helped her negotiate through this period. Setting up automatic bill payments helped a lot. When she could no longer manage her finances, my brother and sister-in-law worked with my parents’ financial advisor and managed her money.

Mom wished to live in her home as long as she could after dad passed.  We tried to follow her desire as long as she was safe.  One of the toughest issues to acknowledge is, at some point, your loved ones may not be able to care for themselves. 

For anyone who has gone through this with a parent, the answer is not always obvious.  For instance, I had seen many signs of forgetfulness with Mom, and for the longest time, it was easy to overlook them.  Like most people, she lost her cognitive abilities gradually. Mom had her good and not so good days.   I was aware of them, but up to then, I felt she was still safe and able to care for herself. I’d step in when I could if she had a household problem.  Those were things that Dad used to take care of, and I was happy to help her out.

More challenging issues arose.  She drove well into her eighties and was an outstanding and safe driver.  One of the things that I liked to remind her about was her perfect driving record, especially since my dad, my three brothers, and I all received at least one driving or parking ticket at some point. I was with Mom one day when I saw that she should no longer be driving.  I won’t go into all the details about that, but it became apparent that she had become a risk to herself and others.  I made one of the most challenging but clear decisions—it was necessary to take her car keys away.  She was resentful and angry at me.  I understood her natural feelings, but it still hurt.

Health Challenges

Facing the health challenges of a loved one is hard. The first significant test happened when Mom fractured her pelvis.  Ironically, it happened when she was visiting my dad’s gravesite.  One of my brothers and his wife, who lived 2,000 miles away, stayed with mom during the first part of her recovery.  When my brother had to leave, we knew the only way to help mom stay in her house was to hire caregivers.  We went through an agency, The Visiting Angels, for part of her care and also hired independent caregivers.  Initially, one of the caregivers had to spend the night with Mom as she needed help in the night to get on her bedside commode.

As Mom began to heal, she wanted the caregivers out of her house. She felt like a prisoner in her own home.  After several weeks, Mom was able to take care of her basic needs. We continued to have caregivers come in for a few hours during the day to check on her, cook, do some light housework, and provide company, but she was still resentful.

We decided to let the caregivers go when Mom healed.  Things would get better for a time, but then some other health-related issues would put us back in the same boat.

On one of Mom’s next visits to the hospital, the first scary incident happened. She fell and was taken by ambulance to the hospital.  The x-rays showed no broken bones, but she was complaining of pain.  The doctor gave her a mild sedative to help her manage. He recommended keeping her overnight for observation with the thought that she would probably be released the following day.  I said good-bye to her that evening, letting her know I’d be by tomorrow to check on her.  I assumed that she would be released then, and I would be bringing her home.

The following morning, I stopped in on my way to work.  When I got there, she was confused and agitated.  She was acting paranoid and thought the hospital staff was planning another 9-11 attack.  I had never witnessed this type of behavior from Mom, and it was upsetting.  She told me that she had held them (the nurses) off last night, and she asked me if we should try to sneak out of the hospital.  I tried to calm her down by talking to her, but she was distressed that I didn’t believe her.  I went to track down a nurse to express my concern.  The nurse said that she had given them a difficult time the previous night and was belligerent.  Mom was the sweetest and kindest person, and these behaviors were nothing I had ever seen before.  The nurse saw how upset I was and told me that it was quite common for elderly patients to get disoriented in the hospital.  I don’t know if it was the medication or staying overnight in a different place, but she was not herself at all.  I had twenty minutes to get to work and I didn’t know what to do. 

I called one of my brothers (no other brothers live in the same time zone) on my way to work to talk to someone because I was so upset.

I tried to concentrate at work, but it was so hard not to worry all day.  After work, I drove to the hospital, and it was as if the whole thing never happened.  Mom was her usual pleasant self and was conversing appropriately.  She even had some memory of the night before and told me, “I must have been out of my mind last night.”  I spoke to the doctor, and I again heard that this type of confusion in the hospital is not unusual for an older person.  He recommended discharging her, but this left me feeling uncertain.  Should I take her home? What would I do if it happened again? On the other hand, leaving her at the hospital seemed risky.  I opted for bringing her home after listening to the doctor’s recommendation.  I later found this article that explains how common an occurrence this is.

I didn’t feel right about leaving Mom home alone, so I picked up a few things and then decided to spend the night with her.  Nothing out of the norm happened that night, and the following morning I showered and went to work.

The next several months seemed fine, and there were no more incidents with delirium.  Mom had a couple occasions of feeling light-headed and was fearful about being left alone.  It was tough to know what to do.  Once I brought her to the ER again, and another time I stayed with her overnight questioning if I was doing the right thing.  Going to the ER in our area is always a challenge.  Every experience it seemed like took a minimum of six hours.  That was hard on Mom.  Usually, they wouldn’t find anything wrong and advised me to follow up with her regular physician.

As she got older, she developed a congestive heart condition.  Now, mom has loved walking for as long as I can remember.  It was the one daily activity that gave her pleasure, and I knew it was good for her physically and mentally.  She often would walk with friends in the neighborhood.  Whenever I’d come over for a visit, she’d almost always ask me if I wanted to go for a walk.  That became one of our regular routines when I’d come over to visit.

Understanding this, her doctor encouraged her to walk as long as she stayed on flat ground.  She lived in a hilly neighborhood, and it was taxing on her if she walked in that environment.  She adjusted by driving (while she still could) to flatter areas of the city where she could walk more easily.

The next time she got hurt was when she was walking in the neighborhood and tripped and fell when she stepped off the curb.  She fractured her back, and we hired caregivers again.  Throughout this whole time, Mom told me that she didn’t want to move in with us and become a burden.  Since my wife and I were still working full time, that wasn’t a practical solution anyway. 

Hitting The Wall

Things got extremely challenging at this point.  Mom was incapable of taking care of herself, and yet she started locking the caregivers out of the house and threatening to call the police on them.  I’d be in the middle of teaching and get a call from one of the caregivers telling me she was locked out.

It was an impossible situation; I was concerned for Mom’s safety. Yet, she didn’t want anyone else in her house most of the time.  I began talking to her about the possibility of visiting some of the assisted living centers in our area because we needed to do something.  Each time I brought it up, she shut down my suggestions immediately.  Then there was another health scare when one of her neighbors brought her to the hospital because of general lightheadedness.  Her doctor made adjustments in her blood pressure meds several times to try and get things right.  Throw in the occasional UTI, and there were a lot of ups and downs.

Being a teacher takes a lot of effort.  I loved my job and tried to be the best educator possible for my students, but I was barely keeping my head above water from all of the stress.  Finally, I hit the wall—emotionally and physically.  I tried to manage everything, but it got to be too much.  I called my oldest brother and told him I needed his help.  He was retired and happened to be out at a convention in Arizona at the time.  He came immediately, just as any of my brothers would have.  I want to make it clear that I hold no resentment toward any of them.  I know they would have done their best if they were in my situation.  Life circumstances were such that I was the only brother living close to my parents.

My brother came as soon as I called for help.  He spent the next couple of weeks living with Mom.  He and I talked daily, and we agreed that he would be the one to tell her that her boys thought it was time she moved into an assisted living facility.  I don’t know if I would call it fate, divine intervention, or blind luck, but the night before my brother was going to broach the subject, she brought it up to him.  The next day they went to visit some of the facilities in our area. 

Next: Part 2

Pete’s Blog:



  1. My advice to anyone in this situation is to try and get as much support as you can. Of course, all of us would do anything for our parent(s), but it can all get overwhelming, especially as a loved one’s ability to think and reason begins to decline.

    Melanie is doing a beautiful thing by having this blog. So many people will face challenging circumstances as people continue to live longer. I can’t commend Melanie enough for her willingness to help others.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much Pete. YOU are helping me by sharing your own candid, thought-provoking first-hand story of helping your mother. It’s truly an inside look at what it takes; and it will help someone. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

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