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Annie’s Mailbox: Elderly parents’ behavior disturbing

Dear Annie: My parents are both in their 80s and don’t get around well anymore. Dad has a history of verbal (sometimes physical) abuse, and Mom has always put up with it. Recently, Mom has been cornering family members and telling them how crazy Dad is, that he screams at her all the time, hits her with his cane and pinches her. We had a caseworker come to the house when Dad wasn’t home, and Mom told the caseworker that everything was fine and not to come back. She told me Dad would be upset if he found out.

My mother is in better physical shape than Dad, and I’m quite sure she could hurt him if she chose to. But she is becoming forgetful and making mental errors. She blames it on living with Dad. My father cannot deal with her mind going, so he yells at her even more. Despite that, she continues to make him dinner, put on his shoes and help him get around. My wife and I have begged her to come live with us, but she refuses.

She wants us to tell Dad’s doctor that he is crazy. I don’t think he’s crazy. He’s a depressed man whose body is failing. He was prescribed antidepressants, but won’t take them. Any advice? – Help

Dear Help: Some couples fall into a dysfunctional pattern of behavior and cannot envision living any other way. You cannot force Mom to confirm abuse to the authorities, nor can you make Dad take his antidepressants. Nonetheless, if your mother is showing signs of dementia, and Dad is abusive, you need to be more proactive.

Ask each parent whether you can accompany them to their doctor for a checkup. That will give you the opportunity to discuss the problem. You also can write the physician or call and leave a message with all the pertinent information. Please keep an eye on their situation, be attentive to Mom’s complaints, and try to get both of them out of the house, individually, as often as possible.