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Dr. Michael
Dr. Michael, Psychologist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 2177
Experience:  Licensed Ph.D. Clinical Health Psychology with 30 years of experience in private practive and as a clinical psychology university professor.
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My mother is 87 y/o and living independently in a senior apartment

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My mother is 87 y/o and living independently in a senior apartment setting. She still goes out and does things for herself. She is is also in relatively good health. I have 3 other sylblings and I am the youngest: we are all professional people, but I have found myself to have become the caregiver for all her needs including emotional. The problem is, role reversal and I have become the parent. With that, we (I) am riding an emotional rollercoaster with her. She has regular cyclic periods of anxiety,depression and stress, and assumes that, if she doesn't hear from me (a phone call), after my other syblings has ignored her, she invariably believes that there must be something terribly wrong with me, or that she has done something wrong or that I must be angry with her. This takes place weekly to bi-weekly, and is usually precipitated by my inability to answer a phone call from her while I am at work. I work in a hospital in a developing and growing department, so my ability to answer or respond to these phone calls is limited. If I am scheduled off or out sick on any particular day, she thinks I've been fired. She has somehow come up with the notion that I'm going to get fired if she calls: and only her. I don't know where this idea has come from. Then the cycle of insecurity begins again, and I find myself re-explaining her incorrect assumptions of insecurity and over evaluation of situations. Then comes the crying and chronic appologies, almost as if she enjoys the process, as she segways into discussions of nothing inparticular, settling her emotions on mundaine things of no consequence: a check that hasn't cleared or something that a friend said. She was the youngest of 3, lost her mother when she was 11y/o, had a stepmother who she claims to have been unkind to her, and had 2 other syblings who didn't want her around. She was also forced to stay with relatives when her father didn't have time for her or was working or looking for work (during the depression). It seems that all this has carried over onto us, mostly myself, because I have to pick up the pieces regularly. My syblings find it easy to ignore her. I don't think this appropriate, but I'm at m'y wit's end, and they do not afford me any assistance. Do I get her into a professionals office? I just don't know which way to turn, and she is creating a disturbance at my job.
Hello. I believe I can be of help to you with this issue.

Actually, it might help for the two of you, and if it was possible, for you and several siblings to get together with a psychologist and your mom to sort these things out. What is amplifying the conflicts and anxieties here in your mom is her awareness that she is increasingly becoming more and more dependent on you or others, as she gets older month by month. This of course is a reasonably accurate appraisal. What you mom is unable to do is engage in rational and health self-talk and self-reassurance about you and your interest in supporting her. Here is where the other siblings come in---she is well aware that your sibs don't contact her or show as much interest or willingness to be involved with her as you do and she has established a core belief that she could suffer further abandonment in the future---especially if you gave up on her. So she is really quite 'scared to death about this possibility. Of course, your siblings need to understand that their failure to contact her regularly is amplifying her anxiety a great deal"

In the absence of getting her in to see a psychologist with you and other siblings, one thing you can do is help track particular times and days when she most definitely will hear from you. I think you realize how important structuring exact times for phone calls is for her---even if these can only be after you get off work. She can also be given an emergency pager if she has a health emergency during the day so medical help can arrive if she gets injured. What I'm suggesting here is that your mom come to understand that there are definite times during the day, or days of the week when you will not be available for contact at all, but specific times each day, or days of the week she can absolutely count on either talking to you, or leaving a message and 'count' on a return call within an hour. This could be another agreement you have about phone calls: "You can call me after 5 p.m. any day of the week mom and if I don't pick up, leave a message. You can count on me calling you back within an hour of the message, because I will check my phone messages after 5 p.m. But you do need to understand that between 8 a.m. and noon, I cannot take your phone calls and will return any messages you leave after 5 p.m. [this is just an example of course of how one might structure this understanding about communicating, phone calls, etc.].

You need to send a email to all of your siblings and ask each of them to put themselves on a phone calling schedule, so that at least once each week, each of them contacts their mother to say hello and check up on anything she needs. Explain that you can no longer be the sole caretaker of your mother and that you realize that everyone is EQUALLY BUSY AND HAS OTHER DEMANDS. I'd attach a sample monthly schedule and ask every sibling to claim a day of the week for calling their mother, and explain to them that you will share a copy of the master calendar with your mom.

If you find a psychologist who practices what is called cognitive-behavioral therapy, they can probably work with your mom to help her begin to practice rational, objective trains of thought your mom already possesses to rehearse to herself when she becomes anxious about not hearing from you. For instance, one such rational train of thought would be, "O.K., I haven't heard back from her yet this morning and so this probably means she has been fired from her job. But, I do remember her explaining that I can only really talk to her after 5 p.m., so I will wait until then to talk to her". Continually rehearsing during the day, more rational trains of thought your mom is fully capable of creating on her own, to repeat to herself when she becomes anxious, would be one aspect of the therapy such a psychologist would use. I'll pause here and solicit your feedback.
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