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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published May 01 2011

Bursack: Moving could hurt mother

Dear Carol: My mother is 95 years old, and in good health other than some short-term memory loss.

She currently lives with my husband and me. My siblings and I are thinking of sharing her care by having her live with each of us for four months at a time. Since there are three of us, we’d each get a break. Both of my siblings live out of state. Assisted living facilities are costly, so we really hate to go that route. She has the money, but it seems that if the family can care for her, she’s better off moving her around. What do you think? – Meghan

Dear Meghan: While I completely understand your family’s need for a break from caring for your aging mother, I personally feel that moving her around could negatively affect her.

This kind of arrangement can work for some families, and most of these families feel they are doing their elder a favor by caring for them in their homes rather than getting outside help or using assisted living.

However, many people, elderly or not, would not feel they had a real home under these circumstances. Confusion about one’s surroundings is often a part of short-term memory loss. I can’t give you a medical opinion, but my heart tells me this could hurt her.

Hospitals are shown to be a risk factor that can set off full-blown dementia. Of course, your homes aren’t hospitals, and your mom could develop dementia anyway, if she hasn’t already. Still, moving her home every four months just seems a bit too risky from my view.

While I’m sure there are families who are making a similar system work very well, I’d be careful. Even the most loving family may not be able to make up for the regular disruption of her life.

Certainly, you should speak with her doctor. If she doesn’t see a dementia specialist, you may want to ask an opinion from a geriatrician or other doctor who specializes in elder care.

Yes, assisted living is costly, but frequently changing the living situation of an elder could have very negative consequences. You’ll have to figure out what is best based on her personality, some medical input and the family needs. I’d look into in-home care assistance, adult day care or assisted living in a community where one of you can visit regularly. This way, you would have the break you truly need, and she would have stability in her life.

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.