Dear Abby: My mother-in-law’s memory, mobility are fading, but her sons are in denial

They refuse to confront her even though she’s endangering herself — and others when she drives.

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DEAR ABBY: My mother-in-law is a sweet retired teacher. She lives an active life volunteering at her local Boys and Girls Club and keeping up with her friends. The issue is, her mobility and her memory are in decline, and she and her family are in denial about it.

She still drives and has recently had several fender benders. She also admitted to getting lost on her way home from the store and needing to call her brother to find her. A fall resulted in a broken wrist. She thinks this is funny and isn’t worried at all. She won’t disclose anything about her health care, so we can’t talk to her doctor.

My husband refuses to talk with his mom about plans for moving or getting more help at home, and my brother-in-law won’t intervene. Both have ordered me to step back. We live a day’s drive away, so if something happens, it’s going to be hard to get to her in a hurry. Why am I the only one worried, and what can I do? — WRITING ON THE WALL

DEAR WRITING: Even though your husband and his family refuse to acknowledge that your MIL may need help and an intervention, it doesn’t mean she isn’t a danger to the community when she’s behind the wheel. Consider contacting the police department in her community to report your concerns. The local police can file an “unsafe driver” report to your state’s DMV, which may require your MIL to take a driving aptitude test. Depending on the results, the DMV may impose driving restrictions or revoke her license entirely.

Additionally, it sounds like your MIL is not the only one having difficulty accepting her diminished condition. Continue talking to your husband and encouraging action before there is a crisis. The decline you describe (falls, getting lost, fender benders) could be early warning signs of dementia or other cognitive decline, which may grow worse.

Even as you take difficult steps that will likely put you at odds with your husband and his family, encourage your MIL to remain active doing the things she loves, but in ways that will keep her and those around her safe.

The Alzheimer’s Association’s Dementia and Driving webpage offers tips and strategies to discuss driving concerns with a family member, and its helpline experts at 800-272-3900 are available 24/7 to discuss this as well as a variety of other topics you may face as a family with your MIL.

DEAR ABBY: A friend came to my home while she knew I was away on vacation. I had a trusted painter doing some work in the house. The friend came over, walked in as though I had given her permission and looked through the house. I know this because the painter mentioned it to me afterward. The painter was upset to learn she had deceived him, and I’m appalled by her incredibly rude behavior. Can and should a friendship continue after such an invasion? — PERTURBED IN PENNSYLVANIA

DEAR PERTURBED: I don’t think so. I see no reason to cause a scene, but if I were you, I’d take three giant steps back.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

Abby shares more than 100 of her favorite recipes in two booklets: “Abby’s Favorite Recipes” and “More Favorite Recipes by Dear Abby.” Send your name and mailing address, plus check or money order for $16 (U.S. funds), to: Dear Abby, Cookbooklet Set, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Shipping and handling are included in the price.)

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