Elderly Bipolar Mother Refuses Treatment

by Jane

My mother has bipolar but denies it strongly. We have watched her cry for weeks, suspicious of everyone around her, but then there is the dominating cruel side to her. Then she genuinely seems to forget all the above so when one confronts her, she is devastated and accuses us of lying. Her horror appears genuine.
It has become impossible to be near her and we all keep our distance from her.
Problem is she is now 80 years old and needs assistance and we are forced to spend more time with her. She detests us one day, cries and sobs the next day, plots against us most of the time and generally makes our lives a living hell. My family has refused to associate with her so I am left with her and bearing the brunt of her cruelty - making me her target.

I am desperate. I take tranquilizers before I see her but even that doesn't always help.
I was advised, many years ago by a therapist, to keep away from her but now that is impossible.

Ben's Answer:

This is a difficult situation. Your loyalty to your mother is admirable, but it's obviously taking a huge toll on you emotionally. Even for parent without bipolar disorder, it would not be easy to be the only one responsible for her well being. If you could use some social services in your community, or any other available benefits to help provide for her care, it would be a good idea.

Your mother's bipolar disorder seems pretty out of control from your description (what would be called "labile mood.")

If she were getting the appropriate psychiatric care, it's probable that her behavior would be much more reasonable. If you could somehow get her to at least take a natural supplement, like Fish Oil and vitamin B complex, daily, it might help a little. But if you don't have much influence over her daily care, and her diet, and she denies she has Bipolar, and refuses medication, you're in a serious bind.

As for your family, it really isn't fair that you should have to bear this alone. I would ask for their support, in whatever way they are able to give it - which may include financial. If they can't deal with her face to face - they should help pay for an in-home nurse, psychiatrist, nursing home or other type of assistance to take some of the burden off of you.

I'm not sure where you live, but in California, I've seen cases like this where a family member has to become "power of attorney" - meaning they have certain legal authority to make financial and other decisions for the parent. And often the parent is placed in a convalescent hospital (perhaps one with a psychiatric specialty), and once they are there, there are steps that can be taken to medicate a person even if they are refusing it (if their behavior is severe enough to warrant it). In any case, this is more serious than one person can handle alone. If you want to preserve your own sanity, you need to pull together a team and make some hard decisions, even if it causes you some guilt.

Take Care,
Ben Schwarcz, MFT
Santa Rosa Psychotherapist

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Comments for Elderly Bipolar Mother Refuses Treatment

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Feb 17, 2018
Giving me ulcers
by: Anonymous

My situation is very simliar. 75 year old mother declares nothing is wrong with her, yet she suffers from bi polar and Scziphrenia. She thinks she looks 30 and has delusions. Refuses meds. I'm getting ulcers from her calling me all night long leaving messages from overly nice to so threating I wonder if the police will be at my door.
It is horrible. Nearly every nursing home I ask for information from says they aren't able to deal with someone that refuses meds. Ugh.

Mar 16, 2016
Living with Bi-Polar Mother
by: Michelle

I feel a connection with everyone on this page, my mother has been Bi-Polar all our life, Except it was never defined, She was institutionalized when my father left her (I was 3) at the time. She had shock treatments, I know this. She always said it was a nervous breakdown from my father leaving and was released and left to raise me and my older brothers (one who has since committed suicide) I don't like blaming others for peoples actions but she was cruel to all of us growing up calling us names, constantly yelling and screaming, saying horrible things to us, and like a previous poster said, Bad mouthed my dad for 40 years, even after he died. Her disturbing details accounts of his infidelities, always left me confused and hurt. I too am in therapy, divorced twice because I sought her abuse controlling personality in my husbands, I have since learned this, the understanding of years of abuse is eye opening. Problem is now she lives with me. She is 82 one brother dead the other took off to Florida, he has had enough and here I am holding the bag. I am recovered BC survivor and thought this was best solution for everyone, She can not walk up and down stairs and has heart issues. We remodeled the first floor and she lives there. WHAT A MISTAKE. Her cycles are frequent, she lashes out, accuses my kids and I of everything. Tells me I am cold because I am not warm and fuzzy with her, I try my best to make a connection but she always ends up saying something cruel or dismissive. She has no empathy for me at all, Having been fighting uphill battle from Cancer treatments and surgeries, trying to work juggle a house and 2 children, I have been laid off twice, still have small income from investment trust and child support. But its tough. Now I am stuck, i cant even sell the house because I dont know what I would do with her, She has plenty of money but would watch me go bankrupt before she helped me. I try to gauge her moods and beat feet when she starts getting agitated. She will start slamming doors and talking under her breath. I was spent many years away from her and forgot how abusive she can be, Age has not changed a thing, She won't talk options of alternative housing or living. I told her during her last outburst, That I will under no circumstance continue being the sounding board for her rage and she needs help, All I got in return was a blank stare, Which i am sure everyone her can relate too when they try to start talking sense. I am sinking into a depression one like I have never experienced before, My therapist says there is nothing I can do to make her seek help, which she so desperately needs. ANy advice would be appreciated.

Ben's Reply:

I have one suggestion for you. Many in this situation feel completely obligated to care for an elderly parent because they have no resources or means of survival on their own - so for some people it would be like turning them out on the street. But you said she has plenty of money (while you struggle to support yourself and kids). Just because she is old and bipolar does not mean she has no means of survival. Money goes a long way. I don't think anyone would fault you for moving her out. I know the actual logistics of that may seem extremely difficult, but at least consider it. She is not your child, and you have no legal obligation to take care of her. Consider the cost to your family's emotional well-being.

I would also look into your county's mental health department and senior services. They might have social workers, case workers, legal advice and other resources that could give you some direction.

Best Wishes,

Dec 25, 2015
I am an only child with an elderly bipolar Dad
by: Anonymous

I have had to deal with a bipolar father my whole life. I also dealt with guilt when avoiding him for holidays. He said cruel things to me . Since I am an only child , I had him move into my house. I thought it would help him feel happier and loved.....it was a living nightmare. His moods wings , mean nasty comments about my mother ( whom he has been divorced for 40 years). He slung pictures from the mantle across the room and said he would love to kill my mother . I grew up with him being like this....

I finally let go of the guilt after trying to get help for him from his doctor, social services and trying to get POA over him for a diagnosis and treatment.. hands are tied.

God Bless all dealing with mentally ill parents

Dec 06, 2015
Elderly bipolar Mom
by: Carolyn

OMG! This is exactly my situation! My 74 y.o. Mother refuses treatment for bipolar disorder with psychosis. I can't be around her at all. She is cruel to me and threatens to kill me! I am providing her with a free condo to live in. My brother disowned her over 25 yrs ago. I have had to receive treatment myself for the toll it has taken on me. I had a mental breakdown a year ago from it. There are no solutions. I consulted with attorney about making her a ward of the state in Georgia. She says it is expensive and a long process with no guarantee of commitment. She said it is very hard to take someone's rights away in the United States. I'm at a loss and feel she may have to end up homeless because I have to do what's best for me for the first time in my life. I truly understand why the mentally ill end up on the streets.

Jun 28, 2014
elderly bi polar mom
by: Anonymous

The reality is that many of us are asked to to for our mother what they neglected to do for us as a result of mental illness.I understand the mixed feelings since I am the only one in my family willing to have contact with her. Many burned bridges over the years. Do what ever you can to make sure she's safe, then take care of yourself. Unfortunatly it has been my experience that as a society we are pathetically unprepared for the mentally ill that are heading to old age. God bless you for your compassion. She's lucky to have you.

Mar 20, 2014
Thank you for posting this
by: Anonymous

Wow, thanks for posting this. You described my mother and my situation to a T. I can't even begin to describe how bad my mother treats me. My one brother is schizophrenic. My other brother has undiagnosed issues and bullies me. I am only 39 and they are in their 50's. My mother treats them fine. My sister moved away from her and disowned us all 20 yrs ago. Out of guilt and trying to do what is right for my mom because I know she is ill. It has been horrible. My teenage son doesn't understand what I went through all my life with her and how hard it is on me for her to treat me like the enemy. I love her and she refuses help. She gets meds but hides them and never takes them. My brothers WILL NOT put her in any facility ever even if she needs it. I am trapped taking care of her and they ignore what she does to me and bully me. Therefore it is impossible to get her help. They have no clue how to deal with this 24/7 they get to stay busy and avoid her. Just know you're not alone and now I know I'm not either 😊 thank you and God Bless

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