Dr. Andrew Duxbury

Dr. Duxbury has an extensive background in community based geriatric programs. While on the faculty at the University of California he developed courses in geriatric health and wellness and founded an educational house call program to teach physicians in training the disappearing art of health care in the home environment. In 1998 he joined the faculty of gerontology and geriatric medicine at the University of Alabama where he is medical director of UAB geriatrics.

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Dear Dr. Duxbury,
I've heard a lot about role reversal when parents get old, but nobody prepared me to put up with my mother's verbal abuse after my father died. Her personality changed from a pleasant, competent woman and mother to an angry, dependent, and totally stubborn matriarch who would do nothing for herself. She insisted on living alone; refused to go out; and complained constantly about the full time live in helper I arranged for her. When my husband was taken to a hospital with cardiac arrest, I had to take action. I put Mother in the car to go for a ride to an attractive Board and Care I knew about, and I left her there! Now she is walking and using her walker. Her appetite has returned, and she is talking with the other residents. But I feel guilty. What if I end up being just like her when I get old?

Guilt is a very strong component of parent/child relationships in our society, no matter what the ages of the participants. "Did I do the right thing?" remains the eternal question that leads to many sleepless nights. Your mother went through that when you were young and did the foolish and selfish things that children do; now you do that regarding your decision regarding where your mother lives.

Your mother's sudden change of behavior following the death of your father suggests that a major grief reaction and depression may have been underlying her behavior. This is often made worse by use of over the counter or prescription sedatives or alcohol in certain cases. Your choices at the time allowed her behavior to continue.

A different set of circumstances and family emergency necessitated that things change with the transfer to the board and care. It seems, from your description, that her behavior has changed for the better and that with constant companionship, depressive type symptoms are improving. As your mother's physical and mental health seem to be improving, I would say that you made the right decision.

Sometimes we must employ subterfuge to do what must be done. I would feel no guilt over that deception as it was necessary for the survival of your family system. To deal with these feelings, which are very normal and very real, I would suggest some counseling or joining a support group for adults with aging parents.

It is not possible to care for another without first caring for oneself.