by Joy Loverde
As the author of The Complete Eldercare Planner and online elder care columnist geared toward people who are caring for aging parents, I’ve been asked some interesting questions. The depth of where our caregiving journeys will lead us never ceases to amaze me. This blog offers insights into the complex elder care process.
Question: My parents are both 88 years old. My father has diabetes and some form of dementia. He can't remember where he is going in the house and for some reason is so off balance he can hardly walk. My mother is very hard of hearing and has developed cataracts. She has refused to have her eyes operated on and says we and everyone else is trying to kill her. They both have become dirty, and she has become verbally abusive as well as aggressive.
My mother has changed doctors (dropped her former one and has not obtained a new one). Her bills and "paper work" as she says are all over the house and in the bath tub. She says my dad can drive a car and do whatever if he puts his mind to it. Question: How do I proceed to have them declared incompetent? I am not trying to take anything away from them nor put them into a home but I can't get cooperation from her and she tells me to get out when I try to help?
Answer: While a certain amount of resistance to accept help on the part of our parents is not unusual, your mother and father have taken it too far – their safety (and the safety of others when your father is driving) is at risk. From what you have described, you have enough evidence (and no other choice) but to take the next step and solicit help from professionals.
For starters, call the area agency on agency where your parents reside, and ask them to direct you to the adult protection agency. Describe the situation and they will take it from there. Most likely they will conduct a home visit and assess the situation. How they get in the front door is another matter; but one that they encounter on a daily basis.
In the meantime, there’s the issue of your well being. I don’t have to tell you that you are in for a bumpy ride – emotionally and otherwise. Talk about what’s happening with someone you trust – a friend, counselor, clergy person. If time allows, attend a caregiver support group (usually held at churches and hospitals). Create a network of support and love around you. You are going to need a safe place to vent your angers and fears.
Question: My father has Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. He was declared incompetent by his neurologist, and suggested that Dad be in my care. I had general power of attorney during this time. Meanwhile, my uncle went behind my back and had my father revoke my POA. Can he do that after his doctor stated in writing that he is incompetent?
Answer: These kinds of sensitive eldercare situations typically do not surface out of thin air, and it is not clear from your recitation of the "facts" in what context all this occurred. Because of the general nature of your query, I sought the advice of a family law attorney who offers this response:
“The neurologist's opinion as to your father's incompetence is controlling--but not of binding legal significance unless it was brought forth in a probate court proceeding wherein a judge then made the finding declaring your father incompetent. Once that occurred, your father no longer would have the legal capacity to have revoked the POA.
If no court proceeding had ever been initiated, you could still do so and probably should. Otherwise, there is bound to be an issue over who can act on your father's behalf. Even now, though, the neurologist's opinion is still going to control; and, in the face of it, your uncle would have an impossible burden trying to prove that your father knew what he was doing when the purported revocation was executed.”
It appears as though a legal battle may be looming, and seeking legal advice today may be your logical next step. For further reading about guardianships and elder law matters, you will find a wealth of tips and low-cost resources in my book, The Complete Eldercare Planner.