Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

Widowed Mom's Ugly Behavior Is Sign That She Needs Help

DEAR ABBY: I agree with your advice to "Driven Away in Georgia" (May 26), whose widowed mother has become so bitter, all eight of her children avoid her. As a clinical neuropsychologist who works with people with dementia and other aging-related problems, I'd like to share my thoughts.

When a spouse dies, previously undetected early-stage dementia can become apparent to others. If the surviving spouse had pre-existing cognitive deficits, they may have been concealed by the competency of the other spouse. After the spouse dies, the structure and functional support once provided is suddenly removed. Symptoms then become apparent to family members. Another diagnostic option might be depression, which can often resemble dementia in elderly people.

There are medications that can help manage and even slow down the progression of dementia, and early intervention may partially stabilize her at a higher level of functioning. You were right to recommend that family members become more involved rather than back away since this woman clearly needs either psychiatric or neurological intervention, or both. Thank you for shedding light on a very common problem that can touch any family. -- RICHARD FULBRIGHT, Ph.D., DALLAS

DEAR DR. FULBRIGHT: Thank you for sharing your expertise and raising awareness for those with family members who are also struggling with similar issues. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: In addition to concerns about dementia, the mother may be overwhelmed with living life as a widow. The eight surviving children should try to arrange for part-time hired help for her household chores that build up. If Mom is living on limited income, she may be crushed with financial stress. Perhaps it's time for her to downsize to a more manageable home.

Instead of avoiding her, these "kids" need to find out exactly what problems are overwhelming their mother and get her help. -- CONCERNED SON IN LAUREL, MD.

DEAR ABBY: "Driven" and her siblings could offer more by getting together, taking potluck dishes and meeting at Mom's house over a weekend to split up her chore list. My own mom would say, "Many hands make labor light" -- and laughter makes the time pass quickly. If they can do this two or three times a year, Mom might feel more secure and relaxed.

Her children also should take turns taking Mom out to dinner and a movie once a month. It will give her something to look forward to. When you lose someone who was involved in your daily life, it gets lonely.

A tip to the kids: Imagine yourselves in your mom's shoes instead of thinking about how much you have to do. Even a person with dementia, if this is the case, can be happy with the right help. -- NANCY IN PAYSON, ARIZ.

DEAR ABBY: If each child contributed a small amount of money each month, they could hire a handyman to take care of the various projects Mom needs to be done. A cleaning person is also an option. Aging parents can be a challenge, but pulling away and spending less time with them will only lead to regrets later. -- LAUREN, SAN DIEGO

DEAR ABBY: Anytime our family got together, or my folks were having special guests over, my mom would ask me to clean her house. I resented it, figuring since I could clean my home, Mom could clean hers. Mom passed more than a year ago, and I'd give anything to be able to clean house for her again. -- BILL IN TRASKWOOD, ARK.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)