Dear Annie: A few years ago, my father had a series of severe strokes at a relatively young age.
He is now disabled and occasionally incontinent. At times he is quite lucid, but he needs continuous care. My parents have been married 40 years. Early on, there was physical and verbal abuse. They are extremely well off, and my mother is convinced a nursing home will drain all their assets, so she insists Dad stay home. She has fancy equipment and hired help that she pays under the table.
My sister and I live two hours away. Mom goes into rages if we try to help with Dad’s care. She also is physically rough with him in front of our husbands and kids. The aides say she hits and kicks him, and tells him she wishes he were dead. They won’t call Adult Protective Services because they want to keep their jobs. We have called, and his psychiatrist and primary care doctor also called, but we were told that as long as my father chooses to stay in the home, there is nothing they can do.
Mom has broken off contact with my father’s family, as well as her own, and there is no one who can influence her. Visiting is difficult because Mom makes it obvious she hates us, and we do not want to expose our children to her horrible behaviour. She says she has the right to treat Dad this way because he abused her so many years ago, and his drinking and smoking caused his health problems. Dad says he wants to be at home. Mom refuses our offers of respite care and won’t see a counsellor for her own mental health. What can we do? — Scared of Mom
Dear Scared: Your mother is getting revenge, and your father, in his more lucid moments, thinks he deserves it. Adult Protective Services should step in, but if they won’t, call the National Center on Elder Abuse hot line (www.ncea.aoa.gov) at 1-800-96-ABUSE (1-800-962-2873) and explain the situation. And if you witness Mom abusing Dad, call 911.
Dear Annie: My intelligent, good-looking husband of 35 years bites his fingernails to the quick and gnaws on the skin around them. This drives me crazy. His fingernails are only half the size they were when I met him.
He once tried to stop, but then began chewing on the inside of his cheeks, which became sore. So now he chews gum constantly, chews on the inside of his mouth and still bites his fingernails. Even when in the other room, I can hear him smacking, slurping and chewing. I don’t know if I should buy him a pacifier or dump a bucket of water on him. This is so bizarre. Any suggestions? — Creeped Out
Dear Creeped Out: A pacifier might not be a bad idea. It sounds as if your husband has some anxiety and stress, and what might have been a bad habit has turned into obsessive-compulsive behaviour. It can be treated with behavioural therapy and possibly medication, but he must be willing to seek help.
Dear Annie: I fully agree with your frequent advice to young people to talk to school counsellors, a friend’s mother, etc., but you never mention grandmothers as possible sources of such help. Many of us are very “with it” and able to be objective. We observe what goes on, have good memories of our own adolescence (and marriages), and are ready to lend an ear. Don’t forget us! We plan to be around for a long time. — Montreal, Canada
Dear Montreal: We usually have “family member” on that list so a young person can turn to any relative, but you are right that devoted grandparents deserve an extra mention. Consider it done.
Annie’s Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column.