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  • Ruth Rothbart-Mayer


Elderly woman crossing the street

The Sanborn sisters started talking at the same time, describing how their mother wasn’t accepting the changes they had made to help her. Rebecca shifted the baby on her lap to hold up 4 fingers, “Four times she walked out of her apartment building.” Beverly shook her head, “she wasn’t wandering, she took a walk and came back each time.” Samantha held up her hand. “We made mistakes…at first, we didn’t think she had to move and we didn’t plan on taking her car away, but then we had to do both.” She shifted her weight to stretch her 8 month pregnant body.

Rebecca leaned forward, “We couldn’t monitor everything: where she went, her medications. And she wasn’t eating. Her doctor said she had early onset Alzheimer’s and would do well in an assisted living but after looking at a few, we knew Mommy was too alert and she’d hate it. So we had a family meeting; us, our husbands, Aunt Marie, her sister, and Mommy. We wanted her to feel supported. We told her our concerns and that we’d found a nice apartment in an independent living place.”

Rebecca: “She agreed to move. She knew it was hard for us, especially with the new baby and one on the way. Then we got a phone call from the building manager. Mommy was driving around the parking lot, lost, parking anywhere. They had to give her space away.”

Sally: “We called her doctor. He was great; told her it would be best to stop driving. She trusted him so she agreed.”

“Mommy”, Harriet, that is, started to complain; she had nothing to do; her friends weren’t close, she couldn’t drive and didn’t know where stores were. Rebecca stepped in, “my friend told me about a home care agency they’d used so we arranged for a companion 3 times a week to do things with Mommy. We tried for a whole week but she wouldn’t let the woman in.”

Beverly sighed, “Now she’s not talking to us. We visit weekly to check on her, bring food, fresh laundry… she talks to our kids, but not us.” Tears welled up around the room.

What went wrong? The Sanborns are the middle of the sandwich, each with their own responsibilities and taken by surprise with their mother’s diagnosis. They didn’t take enough time to explore options, especially after the doctor forcefully said Harriet had to move.

Had they invited me in sooner they would have benefited from an outside perspective and expertise.

What systems could have been put into place earlier? That varies but certainly I would have provided them with the resources to understand the nature of the illness, do a review of short and long-term finances with the help of an accountant and elder law attorney. I would then have a discussion about the best options for their mother, deciding about home care, assisted living, or another appropriate living arrangement.

What I was able to do was to provide a steady presence and help this family over the next few months until they finally had a suitable plan in place.

Ruth Rothbart-Mayer, LCSW, C-ASWCM


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Individual Psychotherapy & Elder Care Coaching

14 Fairway Ave, West Orange, NJ 07052

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