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Successful Aging: My 87-year-old father cares for my ailing mother, but won’t accept needed help

Q. My father is 87-years-old and cares for my 85-year-old mother who suffers from dementia and lung cancer. He resists home care for my mother that is beyond the current one-hour a day, four days a week. My father is exhausted, stressed and says that only someone who loves my mother should care for her. I am not sure my mother is receiving her medication as prescribed. They live 3,000 miles away from me. Money is not the issue. I am so frustrated as are my siblings. Any recommendations? S.L.

Dear S.L.

You indeed are facing a difficult situation. Clearly, the problem is with your father and not your mother. Your father is one of about 34 million caregivers in the U.S who are caring for an adult 50 years and older. Nearly one out of 10 is 75 years or older.

But now to the issue…

We know that we cannot make people do what they do not want to do. Yet, it’s important to keep trying until all options are exercised. Here are some possible approaches, some you may have already tried.

Ask your father what’s it like caring for your mother. Listen patiently without jumping in with solutions. You are on his side and his team. Try to understand his resistance.

Here are a few possible reasons:

Feeling responsible: Your father may feel it is his responsibility to care for your mother. You might look at their relationship over the years. If that has been his role for the past 50-60 years, it is one that is difficult to relinquish.

Another loss: As he watches your mother decline, he might feel giving up his role as the primary caregiver as another loss, which may be more than he feels he can handle.

Losing control: At 87, he may have lost control of many things in his life. Being solely in charge of his wife may be the only role he feels he has left.

Lack of privacy: Your father may not want a stranger in his home more than is absolutely necessary. Currently, that would be one hour a day, four days a week.

Spending the money: Although the funds may be available for home care, the decision to spend that money on care may be considered unnecessary or perceived as too expensive.

Denial: Your father may not be able to face the reality of your mother’s illness. As long as she is alive and he can keep going, he may believe all is well and will be well.

Even if you understand his reasons, the challenge remains to get him to agree to more care. Consider having a family meeting and discuss how each of your siblings sees the problem; determine the role each is willing to play to make the situation more tenable. Identify what you are currently doing, the extent to which it is effective, then consider some alternatives. Here are few that you may have already tried.

Speak with your mother’s physician: Suggest a session where you, your mother and father attend. Ask the physician what type of home care would be optimal for her welfare and comfort. Perhaps your father might process the message.

Identify a family member or a friend whom your father respects and share the challenge with that person: Perhaps he or she can exert some influence.

Consider helping your father be more efficient in household tasks: For example, groceries can be delivered and prepared food can arrive at his doorstep. A cleaning crew can come to his home once a month to do the heavier household chores. Perhaps he could agree to a once a month schedule.

Suggest your father attend a support group: This may be a hard sell but is worth it.

Consider consulting with an aging life-care expert who specializes in such issues: This person is a professional who is trained to assess, plan, coordinate, monitor and provide services for older adults and their families. To locate such an expert in your area, go to

Finally, accept your limits. It is important to feel that you have done everything possible to care for your mother’s well-being as well as for your father’s. If an incident occurs such as your mother falls or your father becomes ill from the stress, it’s important to know that you’ve left no stone unturned.

Thank you, S.L. for your important and difficult question. Best wishes for continued resolve, strength and endurance in successfully influencing your father’s decisions. Your parents are fortunate to have a caring daughter.

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