Long-Distance Care of Aging Parents

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Mentally ill mother living in Oregon

January 2003

This is a tough one but I'm hoping that someone out there might have some advice for me about how to help my Mother. She has had a series of mental illness diagnosis -- from bi-polar disorder to personality disorders. She has also been an alchoholic and drug abuser for many years. She has been sober for the past 13 months and attends AA meetings daily. The problem is that she cannot seem to get herself ''together'' enough to work. She used to run a very successful non-profit organization, but that pittered out after the alchohol/drug problems (which helped mask her other issues) spun out of control. The other complication is that she has a truly sordid history and reputation for terrible manipulation of others in order to get her way. She has pretty much used up and abused most of her family and friends. I am her only child, and she has tried to shelter me from this more or less, but has also manipulated and lied to me over the past ten years. She's stuck now in Ashland, OR, with no money, no job and is getting by on food stamps and Oregon state assistance for prescriptions/minimal doctor care. My question is, is there any help for people who need housing? I can't afford to pay her rent and my recent pleas to family (her own mother and all brothers and sisters) is fruitless. I can only contribute minimally, but its not enough to get her a roof over her head. Where can I turn to try to help her? Are there organizations in Ashland that can help me/her? She cannot live with me and my husband and small child because I fear that she would ruin our lives -- and I would fear for my child's safety. I could write on and on about the years of manipulation and lies, but it was all during the period when she was clouded by alchohol abuse in addition to having these serious mental disorders. I think everyone else has given up on her, but I cannot, as I feel obliged to help my only mother and i see that she is *trying* to get back on track.

I, too, have a similar situation with my mom. Not fun! Although I don't know the resources in Oregon, I'll tell you about 2 things in Cal. that saved us financially. First, HUD has an assistance program for elderly with low income and high medical expense, where they will reduce your rent significantly based on the % of medical expense she pays. For example, my mom was paying $800 in rent at a very nice retirement community apartment, and HUD reduced it to $130 a month at the same place! Also, she can apply for Medi-Cal, based on income and age. If approved, they will cover all or a portion of medical expenses. My mom's perscription drug costs is ridicuolous and they started covering it all! They are a nightmare to deal with, but once you get through the red tape, it can really pay off. Each county has a different office for both agencies so I couldn't tell you who to call. Above all that, all you can do is your best;trust that you need to live your life and you are not responsible for her well-being or happiness. Good luck Lisa

I don't know about particular services in Ashland, OR, but your mother sounds very much like a family member of mine who, before she died, somehow managed to basically stay off the street. She had a state-appointed social worker who helped her find all different kinds of inexpensive housing and treatment. I strongly suspect that their are housing services for your mother in Ashland. Good luck - I know how terribly hard it can be to desperately want to, but not be able to, help someone with your mother's problems. anon

I have a similar situation. My father is paranoid schizophrenic. He has been on so much medication for so long that he is also a drug addict, taking more or less or his perscriptions to suit his moods. My father receives SSI which is money from the state for mentally disabled people. He has been receiving SSI since his stay in a mental institution when I was a child. I don't know how to go about getting SSI but your mother is eligable and you can help her by contacting the Social Security Office in Oregon if she can't do it herself. My father lives in a board and care facility where someone else cooks and cleans. His SSI payments cover his board and care plus a little spending money. He also has medicare which covers his bills when he has to be institutionalized periodically. Your mother should be eligable for all of that plus I know that there are board and care facilities for people who are dual diagnosed (mentally ill and addicts). You could probably do the footwork over the phone if your mother is willing to live the way you want her to. I always come up against the problem of my father not being willing to do what I want him to even though it would be best for him. His ideas are very different from mine because he is not sane. With all that said, the most important thing you can do to help your mother is to take care of yourself. If she were well she would want the best for you and she wouldn't want you to agonize over her situation. You can't help anyone else unless you are first taking care of yourself. For me, with my father, sometimes that means not dealing with him when he is being really crazy. He is always going to be the way he is, all I can do is try to have a relationship that doesn't hurt either one of us or my family. Good luck! Danielle

I have no idea on the practical questions you ask about how to help your mother; I hope others can answer that. But your message brought tears to my eyes. Take care of yourself, and well done - for being a mother yourself, for breaking the cycle of illness, manipulation. My own mother died at the time my first child was born, so I did not have to help her - I did not have the opportunity to help her. I wish you strength, and I hope you find the answers you are seeking.

Hi. I have been through all of that multiple times for my younger brother, now 30. He has similar diagnoses, and a long up and down history. I would be happy to talk to you and see if I can offer any assistance... I think I can in some way. Feel free to call me... after 8:00 PM will allow me to give my undivided attention to our conversation. You can also try The Alliance For the Mentally Ill. I believe they have a website. Lisa

Well, I got the shivers reading your note...so many similarities to my own situation which is also in crisis at the moment. Like yours, my mother has had the alchohol/prescription drug abuse problem for many many years, but unlike yours never got help or tried to recover (though a near-death poisoning from said substances seems to have curbed her abuse) and won't see a doctor to get a diagnosis. Her mental illness takes the forms of hoarding possessions/trash to the point of safety hazard, delusions about how to make money, and denial that she can't manage the money she does acquire, i.e., she has spent every dime of a large inheritance and retirement fund so is also not able to keep basic shelter (and is in fact facing yet another eviction this week). The ultimate expression of her problem is a basic refusal of any help except cash deposits into her bank account. Like you, we can afford to pitch in a bit, but don't have room in our house or lives (or community!) for someone who is, in her illness and fear, extremely nasty, selfish etc (grandchildren, what grandchildren?). And yet, she is my mother -- I really feel your pain and applaud your desire to not give up on yours. Our family has pitched in with some resources, but they have all been wasted. We tried an intervention, professional social workers, all have not helped (yet...hope springs eternal). Our options seem to be that she be allowed to go her own way, even be homeless if that is her choice, or sue for conservatorship which we can't afford and probably won't win. Not great options, huh. You don't say if your mom is a senior, but you might contact the Ashland Senior Center as a place to start, or, search for ''care managers'' on the web and you might find some stuff of interest. Our focus has been on assisted living because of my mother's myriad health problems, so the California Registry is also a resource that might have an Oregon counterpart. Thank goodness your mother is getting help and attending meetings! I have learned a lot from the intervention about offering heartfelt help and real solutions, conquering blame and guilt, standing by reasonable ultimatums, and letting go when it's necessary. I'm so sorry the rest of your family can't be with you on this, it really helps to have a network of support. I wish you the best of luck (and make sure you take care of yourself first, this is a very stressful situation and wears away at you). Sad daughter