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Caregivers: Why do we wait so long before taking action?

Proactive or Panic Mode?

We’re seeing this problem over and over. Adult children contact us, worried about an aging parent who is declining mentally, physically, or both. They’ve just gotten around to dealing with it, and they’re lost. Signs of alarm have been there for years.

We’re always glad to assist by giving them personal advice and guidance about what to do, from the perspective of a nurse-attorney and psychologist, but we wonder. What will happen in our society to provide this needed information? Families don’t know how to manage the problems aging parents get when they live so long.

Here’s a typical scenario we heard about today :

Adult daughter calls to ask for help. The family doesn’t know what to do with mom. Mom refuses all help. She lives alone and has been going downhill since dad died about 3 years before. Now, she seems to be getting paranoid. She’s not able to be independent anymore, but she thinks she can live alone.

I ask, “ Is there a durable power of attorney?” “Who’s in charge?” Well, no, no one’s in charge they say. And I am trying to wrap my mind around why four adult children, three of whom live nearby, have not done the most basic of things to protect mom legally.

We’ll be able to help these siblings with their aging parent problems by having a family meeting and doing some strategizing. At least they’ll have a direction when we’re done. But, how sad that they have waited until this crisis, when mom is so debilitated that she is hard to work with and less cooperative than before. The stress could have been lessened with one simple document.

Right after dad passed away would have been the ideal time to move forward and get her to sign a durable power of attorney. No one did. At, Dr. Davis will likely do an evaluation of mom for dementia, to help everyone learn about just what we’re working with here. Then, the family can plan accordingly.

Make a note to yourself, boomers: when mom or dad becomes a widow, you’ve got to move fairly soon to be certain that some plan is in place for the other aging parent. The basics always include a durable power of attorney for finances.

Someone reliable has to be able to step in if your aging parent loses the capacity to make safe money decisions. Don’t wait until he or she is barely able to function, gets totally paranoid or has dementia.

(Story written by Carolyn L. Rosenblatt, nurse-attorney,, June 29, 2010)


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