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by Abigail Van Buren

If Caller Id Says Husband, Wife Should Take His Call

DEAR ABBY: My mother-in-law, "Thelma," came to live with us two years ago because at 82, she was no longer financially able to support herself. Because she likes to cook, she has done most of the meal preparation. It has been a big help since my husband and I work full time.

Over the last year, Thelma's judgment has deteriorated and so have her cooking skills. She'll often prepare meals by 2 p.m. that won't be served until 6:00 or 7:00. The food sits on the stove or kitchen counter for hours. She also overcooks to the point of burning and meats are tough and difficult to eat. If she doesn't have something on hand that goes into a recipe -- or she can't remember -- she'll "substitute." Her choices generally do not work. Everything has become increasingly less appetizing, to put it mildly.

My mother-in-law is so kind, I don't want to offend her. My husband refuses to discuss it with her because he doesn't want to upset her. Please help. I'm worried about the length of time the food sits out after being prepared. Plus, I'd really like to have a good meal! -- HUNGRY IN MISSOURI

DEAR HUNGRY: Food is the least of your problems. Your mother-in-law is showing signs of dementia. Does her doctor know about this change in her? If not, that should be the first thing on your agenda. If so, then you and your husband need to understand that what's happening may be progressive. A point may come when, if a fire should start while she's cooking, she would no longer remember what to do.

You and your husband should consult his mother's physician and a geriatric specialist. You should also contact the Alzheimer's Association. And at the end of the day, you should "all" prepare your evening meals together.