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When Your Parent Depends on You

Deciding what's best for an ailing parent is tough. But there are more options now than just the nursing home.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

When David Ruttan's father died, his 78-year-old mother's plight worried him. "She was very isolated. They had very few friends," said Ruttan, a California resident. "We were concerned about her driving abilities, and you could tell that she wasn't quite mentally there. She was becoming repetitive. We weren't sure if it was part of the grieving process or something else."

Eventually, Lois Ruttan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and her son had to face the truth: the mother who once cared for him was no longer able to live on her own.

It's often painful for adult children to talk to an aging parent about loss of capabilities, even when the signs are everywhere: stove burners left on, medication doses missed, wandering, getting lost, being unable to reach the toilet in time.

"They don't want to see the change in their parent. They don't want to make their parent angry. They don't want to offend their parent's dignity," says Suzannah Chandler, LMSW, executive director of Search and Care, a New York nonprofit organization that helps the elderly live at home.

But Chandler says it's important for both parties -- parents and children -- to plan for the day when parents are no longer able to live independently.

In Ruttan's case, discussions about his mom's future went smoothly -- almost. "There was only one bump in the road. She became ballistic when I took away her car," he says. "It was really heart-wrenching."

When he and his mother decided on an assisted-living facility, he fretted. "When I first walked into the place, I was so scared. Is this the right place for my mother? Am I incarcerating her? All these questions were flying through my mind."

Fortunately for Ruttan, assisted living proved to be just what his mother needed. As her Alzheimer's progressed, staff members were there to supervise her and lend a hand with daily tasks.

While home-care aides can come into an older person's home to assist with housekeeping, shopping, cooking, and other tasks, it's not always enough. Sometimes, aging parents need a new living arrangement with more care and companionship. Nursing homes, with their round-the-clock, comprehensive care, are hardly the only option.

In between, you and your parent have many choices to investigate, from temporary housing set up on your property to continuing care communities that will house your parent through all stages of old age.

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