Ask Nancy

When a parent can no longer do the daily tasks of life


A New Column

Ask Nancy is a new feature in Neighbors that will run every Sunday. Its focus is on issues related to aging and caregiving.

Q:My 85-year-old mom alternates between completely on the ball and totally

confused by the details of daily life. I have gradually assumed responsibility

for many things — bills, doctors’ appointments — that have proved

difficult for her, and she is quite grateful. I am thrilled to be able to do this

for her.

However, in the moments when it dawns on her how much control

she has ceded, she becomes angry and argumentative, feeling insulted and

disrespected. On several occasions, I’ve given in to her demands to take back

the reins on certain things — only to have things go badly off track, creating

more stress and anxiety for both of us.

Can you give some advice for

navigating these issues and de-stress this situation? I’d really love to enjoy this time with my mom, but find we spend far too much time wrangling over these things.

Lisa L., Miami

A: Your question addresses many of the issues and emotions that family

caregivers often experience. While we want to help our aging parents,

this constant “one-step forward, and two-steps backwards” results in a lot

frustration and anger. Aging is associated with loss of roles and

responsibilities, and it’s likely very difficult for your mother to adapt to this

new role reversal and and it’s making her feel anxious.

Melissa Friedman, a neuropsychologist from Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, is aware of this issue.

“In some cases, taking time out to talk about underlying issues, or what the loss of such responsibilities may represent to the aging parent, can provide a feeling of relief for the parent,’’ she said. “Sometimes they are simultaneously experiencing other difficult changes, such as loss of driving, decreased ability to participate in hobbies, increased social isolation, or loss of other duties.”

It’s possible your mother is experiencing symptoms of depression or

anxiety, or that her agitation may be a symptom of a progressive dementia

process. Friedman suggested that a psychiatric, psychological or

neuropsychological evaluation can be helpful to understand the nature

of the problem and to identify appropriate treatment, which may include

psychotherapy or psychiatric medications.

Finally, she noted, “Helping the aging parent to establish a routine of

physical and mental activity, that is meaningful to them, can also have a

beneficial effect on their mood and outlook."

Nancy Stein, Ph.D., is the founder of, a local caregiver advisory and referral service for South Florida seniors and their families. You can contact her at

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