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

by Abigail Van Buren

Families Facing Alzheimer's Can Explore Many Options

DEAR ABBY: My mother-in-law was diagnosed with dementia more than a year ago. She lives alone and can no longer do anything for herself. She can no longer climb stairs, which means she can't get to her bed, shower or do laundry, and it takes her hours to dress herself. She also needs help getting and remembering to take her medications.

Because Mom can't drive, she can't get to the store, the bank or anywhere else unless one of her kids takes her. She does nothing all day but watch TV and eat sweets.

When do her kids stop treating her like a toddler and start treating her with dignity? She clearly needs assistance, whether it's a couple of days a week of companionship or an assisted-living center. She doesn't want to go, but when is it time to do what's best for her and stop listening to what she says she wants? Her kids are afraid to make her mad, so this poor woman is withering away in her two-story home -- lonely, smelly, sad and depressed.

I would move her into our home if we had a place for her, but we don't. What can be done for an elderly person who obviously can't take care of herself, but "fakes" it so her kids won't put her "in a home"? -- HEARTBROKEN DAUGHTER-IN-LAW

DEAR HEARTBROKEN: Please accept my sympathy. Your letter is timely, because September marks the inauguration of World Alzheimer's Month.

Accepting the realities of dementia or Alzheimer's disease can be difficult for families, especially when the person with the disease has lost the ability to safely live alone or make sound decisions.

When this happens, families must take steps to ensure that their loved one is safe and healthy. This may involve bringing care into the home or exploring other living options. Fortunately, most communities offer resources that can help, including home-delivered meal programs, in-home care, assisted-living and residential memory care.

Because you are rightfully concerned about your mother-in-law's well-being, call a family meeting and discuss care options. The Alzheimer's Association has a consultation program that helps families navigate through these complex situations. It offers emotional support, needs assessment and information about local resources. To speak with a care consultant, call the Alzheimer's Association's toll-free, 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900.