Question About Helping an Elderly Relative (and family conflict)


I've been thinking about writing this post for the last couple of weeks, but am spurred to write it this morning after sitting with my mother last night while she repeated, with tears in her eyes, "what should I do?" over and over again. I've heard these words quite a few times these past few weeks and am not sure of the answer. That's why I'm asking you.

Here's the background: My grandfather has had juvenile diabetes for the past three decades. For the first twenty five years of so, he was incredibly careful about what he ate. These past few years his memory and self control have started to slip and his health has suffered. Despite my mother and grandmother's best efforts it wasn't all that unusual for my grandfather's blood sugar to be in the four hundreds and above (really, really high). He's been in and out of the hospital the last couple of years, both because of his blood sugar and because of stomach problems from an old war injury that involved fiber glass getting into his stomach (usually this involves vomiting blood).

The past year has been especially bad. He's been in and out of the hospital for his stomach, blood sugar, for a broken pelvis after a fall and then a couple of months ago for a broken should and hip (another fall).

He and my grandmother have always been very independent, and they were afraid of being moved to a home, so they asked my parents to move (two hours) out to their property, where my parents built there own house five years ago (it's in a very, very rural location. The last hospitalization involved him being airlifted an hour away by a helicopter). Until this year my grandmother was capable of giving him his medicines and keeping his sugar levels down for the most part.

However in the past six months this has changed very dramatically. There was a day when my grandmother told my mom and me that she had had shooting pains down her arm the night before but that she "hadn't said anything because she didn't want to bother anyone". My mom took her to the hospital where they said it was a "pinched nerve" and sent her home. I've wondered frequently if that was really the case (this hospital doesn't have a great reputation but it's the only one within an hour and a half of their home) because her personality changed completely from that day on. Since that trip to the hospital I'm reminded more of a rebellious teenager when she speaks with my mother. She's incredibly forgetful and it seems like the part of her brain that controlled "common sense" is just kind of gone.

And that's where we come to the real problem: my mom is there to help my grandfather take his medicines, she brings over food for both of them frequently, and does his exercises with him. My grandmother tried to in the recent past, but she would forget and he would end up back in the hospital. The past couple of weeks however, my grandmother is completely hostile towards my mom and is trying to retake control of his medicines. And that means he's been sick because even when my mom calls to remind her and she promises that she's given him his insulin and his pain medications, (because she usually hasn't). When my mom will go over later to check she'll see the record sheet's blank and he's in agony and my grandmother will say "oh I decided he didn't need insulin" or "Oh I must have forgotten" and usually then says something mean enough that my mom comes home in tears. He is now in pretty good shape if all his meds get given on time, every time.

She's even started buying him ice cream and cake :eek: and even lets him have beer (the last two times he's had beer that we knew of he ended up in the ER for a couple of weeks because it does very bad things to his blood sugar).

I think my grandfather is finally to the point where he knows he needs help... but his memory isn't great and he is coherent enough on what's going on with his meds to question my grandma (or to remember what he should and shouldn't be eating).

And my mother doesn't know what to do because her mother is undermining her at every step, giving him sweets and telling her she's given him medicines when she hasn't or that she's going to and that my mom shouldn't come over and then saying she changed her mind.

This isn't a medical question, it's a "what would you do if your family was having this sort of conflict" question. My mother is doing her best, but she's afraid to be mean and isn't quite sure how to deal with the way her mother is acting (her personality really reminds me of my thirteen year old niece). Any ideas for dealing with this?

We spent years taking care of my other grandmother who had dementia, but that was very different. She needed help and help was given. She wasn't resisting, or putting anyone else's life in danger (I'm afraid we are to that point). This situation is just so different we're not sure what to do. Any advice is appreciated.

Sorry this was so long and rambling. I tried to condense it... and did in part... but the whole thing just seems to complicated I think I started to ramble... Thanks...


My grandpa had diabetes as well (Type II) so I know how critical it is that he follow his diet and take all medicines exactly as he should. If your grandmother is preventing him from doing that, his life is in immediate danger. My grandpa didn't follow his diet like he should have and ended up on dialasis and eventually died, and that's the same path my aunt is now following. She refuses to control it at all and at the age of 57 is on death's door just a few years after being diagnosed. Diabetes can get out of control very quickly.

Unfortunately, if your family gets together to pull your grandpa out from under your grandma's control she will no doubt rebel and it will probably break off her relationship with the rest of the family. But putting him under the care of someone who is capable of managing his disease, whether it's another family member or a nursing home, will save his life. There are also laws about elder abuse and although I'm not sure this would qualify, it might be worth looking into. Failing to take proper medical care of a senior citizen is definitley part of those laws but your grandpa's case might not be severe enough for the authorities to get involved. If they did, though, it might make it harder for your grandma to blame the rest of the family for grandpa ending up in a nursing home.

I am sorry your family is in this situation now, and I hope you all can get through it with your bonds still intact. It is not easy to confront an aging family member who wants to keep control over things they've shown they are no longer capable of handling themselves. Whatever you all decide to do, I would suggest making sure the whole family is on board with it as much as possible. If half the family wants to leave grandma alone out of fear of her reaction and the other half wants to rescue grandpa, that alone will cause conflict. Plus, if your grandma has a manipulating personality it would be easy for her to pit one group against the other and rip the family apart.


Hi there

I'm so so sorry you & your family are going through this.

Has your mom been in contact with your Grandma's doctor? It sounds like Grandma's behavior is a really big stumbling block here. I would be concerned about her, the changes in her personality. I think I would call Grandma's doctor and tell him/her what's going on and try to get her in to be seen.

Also, being that Grandpa is a veteran, is he entitled to any in-home care through the VA? A visiting nurse? A 3rd party, not a family member might be helpful in assisting your mom and making sure that Grandma isn't left to administer medication, etc. Or perhaps your mom could keep the medicines at her home, and bring them over at the right times?

One last thing, can Grandpa get an insulin pump? Would that be easier? (I don't know too much about Diabetes).


they probably both qualify for a provider paid for by medicare who comes in and does what should be done daily for both of them, which will lessen the burden on your mother, but if residential care becomes necessary, she will have to take that step. She needs to get them to sign a health care power of attorney, and power of attorney to take care of their business affairs now, while they are still mentally able. Without it she will be handicapped in making decisions in their best interest down the road.

It sounds as if your grandmother had a stroke and was badly treated at the hospital, She needs to be medically evaluated immediatey.
You might also suggest your mom contact Catholic Social Services to guide her through these decisions. If staying in their home by themselves becomes a threat to the health and safety of either, it is time to make a change.

Having gone through a similar scenario with several family members myself, I heartily sympathize and pray earnestly for your mother.


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