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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published December 26 2010

Bursack: Mom may be clinically depressed

Dear Carol: My mom is 86 and widowed. While I live over 800 miles away, I talk to her several times a week. Since my Dad’s death five years ago, Mom’s slowly sunk into isolation, loneliness and self-medication with alcohol.

She’s showing some signs that her perspective on life and her sense of time are both changing.

Also, her decision-making is uneven, which signals to me that her mental capacity is diminishing.

I am a responsible person and I love my mom, but I can’t move to her community to watch over her. I also may be too emotionally connected to make the right decisions. As a longtime reader of your column, I have a feel for what is coming, so changes in my mom scare me. Any suggestions?

– Sandy

Dear Sandy: If you can afford it, a geriatric care manager, usually a social worker, nurse, or someone with similar credentials who helps people coordinate care for their elders, would be ideal for your situation.

To find a geriatric care manager, you can contact the social services officials in your mom’s state, or you could check the website of the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers, at www.caremanager.org. Not all care managers will be listed with this organization, but it’s a start.

Another resource would be her state website. Once on the site’s page, type the word “aging” in the search box. You should then find her state’s version of the National Family Caregiver Support Program. These folks could help link you up with a care manager or someone else in the area that provides similar services.

Being a long-distance caregiver to an aging elder is tough. It’s not unusual for people to feel too emotional to make good decisions as their parents decline, but not everyone is as open about this as you are.

I do wonder if your mother is suffering from clinical depression. Likely, there is more going on than depression, but depression should be considered. Her doctor needs to know the particulars of her life.

If your mom is still in the family home but doesn’t go out and socialize, her life could improve if she had a regular caregiver from an in-home care agency come in, or if she lived in a retirement community. She may not need assisted living yet, but if a good medical checkup doesn’t unearth something that medication can help, assisted living may be something to consider.

Whatever happens, she needs some socialization. You are right that her current situation isn’t good.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.