Older loved ones refusing to take care of themselves

My wife’s mother has high blood pressure, is pre-diabetic and has suffered one or two mild strokes in the past. Her kids try to nag her to modify her diet, but she’s having none of it–she loves fatty, salty, high-carb food, and if she can’t eat just what she wants, when she wants it, she declares “she might as well die now,” she doesn’t care. Fine, I’ll have a stroke! Just don’t tell me what to do!

She’s had a very tough life, pretty much rising from unimaginable poverty, working hard in a factory, and raising three kids to adulthood. Now that she’s retired and living comfortably, it’s kind of like she feels it’s her time to be selfish – only her selfishness, if that’s what it is, is driving her kids to distraction and grief.

Anyone ever encounter this, and any ideas? My wife might read this, so please don’t be mean about her mother.

How old is she? Is she fully mentally competent, or a little bit demented, or a whole lot demented? Do you feel she if fit to make her own decisions about things like this?

Everyone dies. Sooner or later. The health choices one makes might perhaps help one to die later rather than sooner. Or help one to not die of heart attack or stroke, in which case one will just die of something else instead.

I myself, for example, am chronically terrified at prospect that I might have a stroke or heart attack. But, if it’s gonna happen, I don’t suppose it matters much when. If that’s your MIL’s choice, should you respect that? Or, if I choose to eat wisely and exercise, perhaps I will just die of something else instead someday, and for all I can predict, it could be something else just as gruesome. Most ways of being old and sick and dying are gruesome.

Your MIL’s choice (if she is actually competent to make her own choices) seems to be to live the way that makes her happiest now, at the possible expense of dying sooner rather than later. And if she is at high risk for stroke or heart attack (as it seems), that may be what gets her in the end anyway, whenever the time come. Choosing to live happier even at the risk of dying sooner, or choosing the opposite – either way may be a valid rational choice to make.

My dad had a heart attack and died at 72. For a smart man, he was pretty stupid about his health choices and I suspect he was a bit in denial. For example, he bragged about eating turkey bacon instead of the fatty pork bacon, but he’d fry it in oil.

I was angry at him when he died because I’m pretty sure if he’d taken better care of himself, he wouldn’t have left my mom a widow just when they had the time and money to enjoy retirement. On the other hand, I remember the times he would amend his diet - he was a real joy to live with… :rolleyes: So even tho he didn’t make what I’d consider to be a smart choice, it was his life and he was living it the way he wanted to. He was happy in his early 70s, but he might have been crabby in his 80s - maybe his way was better.

Heck, he could have been super-fit and still get hit by a bus. That’s the thing about mortality - you really don’t have a whole lot of control, despite what you want to think.

Senegoid’s last paragraph seems to sum up my thoughts rather tidily. But it’s easy to be tidy when it’s not personal, isn’t it. Wish I had something better to offer.

The problem, I see, isn’t what ends up killing you, but the diseases that leave you bedridden and incapacitated. Yes, everyone dies. But can you live a mentally functioning and self-sufficient life, or are your last years filled with dementia and paralysis due to a stroke before you die?

It’s not about how you die, but what type of life you have before you die can be directly affected by taking care of yourself. That’s what, IMHO, trying to be healthful and taking care if yourself is about.

My father was diabetic and smoked. He didn’t really do anything to deal with the diabetes other than shoot up and he never even considered quitting smoking. He had numerous heart incidents and finally passed away in 2009 aged 76.

He never complained about his ailments and he pretty much left us on his own terms. I’m not going to say that was admirable, but there is something to be said about someone who lives their life the way they want to with full knowledge that he wasn’t getting out alive.

He didn’t want to be a bother to anybody and he really didn’t see the use of a few extra years at the end of his life when he wouldn’t be able to enjoy them. He dropped dead on a May morning, my mother said that he seemed in great spirits and was singing like he usually did. Until he wasn’t.

My mother obeyed the doctor and died a miserable death 16 months later. All in all, I’d rather have had his life, than hers.

That said, please come to terms that people are simply not going to live their lives the way we might want them to and try to love and respect their decisions. Fighting it will just cause unneeded pain and heartbreak.

This is what gets me.

If it was only about death, then it would be easier to deal with. Especially when it comes to older people. There aren’t a lot of tough decisions to make and there isn’t a whole lot of strain on the family or any one individual afterwards when we’re just talking about someone being dead.

But caring for a person is a different thing. And not just doing light cleaning for them and picking up their dry cleaners, but changing their diapers and rolling them over in bed. Having to listen to demented ramblings all day. Never being able to do anything or go anywhere because you’ve got to care for Mom or Pop, and there’s no money to hire any help. All because someone believed that life wouldn’t be worth living if they couldn’t eat whatever they wanted to, in whatever quantity.

Every time I nag at my mother to follow her diet (she’s got diabetes), I tell her I don’t want her to die. But really I’m thinking about how hard she’d be to live with as a blind, crippled person. Which absolutely makes me feel guilty.

(My mother is actually doing great now. She’s found a diet that really seems to be shedding the pounds, and she’s talking about taking tai-chi. So I’m very proud of her. Now she just needs to work on my dad…)

Right. Everyone’s hears the stories of the pack a day smoker who lived a great life, had a massive heart attack and died. Sounds great. The reality is the odds aren’t good that is what will happen. They’ll have lung cancer, a heart attack they survive but leaves them bedridden, or some form of COPD.

You don’t have to live like a monk on an austere diet. By the time most folks are in their 80s it probably doesn’t matter how strict the diet is, and they should be enjoying small pleasures like tasty food. People should die with dignity and autonomy. Being healthly and controlling what you can control gives you the best chance of that.

I agree that it depends on how much “older.” My husband’s mother and stepfather lived to be well into their 90s. Their primary food groups were salt, fat, and carbohydrates. Once you get to be much over 80 or 90, does it really matter much what you eat? You’re gonna go soon anyway.