Virginia Morris Answers Viewer Questions on Caring For Elderly

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Evelyn from South Carolina: Our parents will be 91 and 90 years old this year. Dad gave up driving because of his heart condition & Mom has walking problems, pacemaker and other poor health issues. We are three siblings, Lois age 66 & retired; Russ Jr., age 65 working part time; Evelyn age 61, working part time and full time student studying for my BSHA. I feel guilty being here in SC because my sister & brother-in-law take care of her mother-in-law at their house and driver over to our parent's home daily. Our parents live 5 miles from my sister and 2 miles from my brother. My brother has health issues however he is helping out our parents with lawn care, setting out the trash, sitting with them when Lois cannot make it in to check on them. I drive to PA every year to help out while Lois and my brother-in-law go on a much needed vacation with their children and grandsons. Everyone lives in Pennsylvania except me (Evelyn) I live in SC with my 72-year-old male companion of 17 years. I have seen him through heart surgery, bladder cancer/ostomy, diabetes and now walking problems. He does drive to his work place every day and to the doctors appointments. All of his family lives in the England, so when health problems arise I am always there for him, except when I go to PA. Then I make sure his health needs are taken care of (skin barrier with floating flange, Urostomy pouch are freshly changed). Should I feel guilty about being so far away (670 miles) from my family/parents?

Should you feel guilty? A loud and resounding No! In fact, my message to you is to get rid of the guilt. Just shed it off, throw it up, release it somehow, tie it up in a bag, and take it out with the trash. Gone. Completely and forever. Guilt is probably a good thing to feel if you steal your sister's favorite sweater. But it's not a helpful emotion in this case and, sadly, almost all caregivers are plagued by it. I wish I could wave my magic wand and get rid of all caregiver guilt.

You have nothing at all to feel guilty about. You are doing what you can. Even from a distance, you provide your siblings with emotional support and a sounding board. You give them much-needed respite. Send them each a gift certificate for a massage, if you like. But you do not need to pack up and move, or feel guilty.

Kim from New Jersey: My mother-in-law has maxed out her credit cards, twice. My concern is, if she should pass away, who would be responsible for all her debt?

Her debt would be paid out of anything that remains in her estate. When that is sapped out, it would remain uncollected. But you will not inherit it, unless you co-signed for it. Your mother, however, needs to make confetti out of her credit cards, and talk to a financial planner or elder law attorney to get her finances under control and to plan for the future.

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