Dear Carol: My husband and I are retired and were enjoying our quiet life when my fiercely independent 89-year-old mother started showing signs of dementia. We felt that it was best for her to move in with us and she reluctantly agreed. Mother's been in our home for seven months and, while my husband is a saint, I'm not. She's driving me crazy. She tries to cook and I spend hours cleaning up from burned food and dumped wastebaskets. She tries to do her own personal care in the bathroom and dumps things in the toilet and then flushes so we've needed a plumber twice, so far. She has dropped and broken my makeup bottles, leaving huge messes. She wants to eat in the living room and spills and rubs the mess into the couch. I've tried to talk to her, but she says that she's used to her own life. I know this isn't her fault and that I'm supposed to be patient, but I'm not a natural caregiver. This makes me feel guilty but there you have it. Am I that unusual, or do we live in a world of saints? - BD.
Dear BD: Media stories about caregivers who appear completely selfless abound, so when the average family caregiver in their view falls short, they feel guilty. Sainthood is not a requirement for caregiving. You are a good person with limits and recognizing your limits is one sign of maturity. This may surprise you, but it's also the sign of a good caregiver. We need to know when to ask for help.
Your good sense shows in that you instinctively understand that your mother's behavior isn't her fault. She's just trying to live her life. However, that's what you are trying to do, as well.
You could try hiring an in-home care agency to come in and help your mother cook, bathe and otherwise stay occupied. At least giving this type of care a chance could ease any guilt that you feel about moving your mother into assisted living, and there is a small chance that it may work for a while to put off this change.
However, considering your mother's love for independence, I think that assisted living may be a good choice as long as you have homes in your community that provide an acceptable quality of care. You could visit regularly and handle your mother's medical appointments. You could take her out if she enjoys that. Trained staff, however, would be integrating her into activities so that she can safely do what she wants to do.
Your mother sounds like she could be active for quite some time and she should have that freedom. Meanwhile, you and your husband also deserve time for yourselves so that you can enjoy your retirement. What you don't want is for caregiving stress to destroy your health and leave your mother without a daughter. There's no need for guilt. You are still a considerate, respectful caregiver.