Dear Annie: My mother is 84 and lives in California. She's mentally competent but suffers from a variety of illnesses and is on medication for depression and high blood pressure. She's also been taking sleeping pills since my father's death seven years ago.

Mom is adamant about staying in the family home, so my sisters and I have tried to get her the tools she needs to remain independent: the medical alert medallion she refuses to wear because it's "ugly," the cell phone she keeps on the charger instead of in her purse, the cane she doesn't use.

I live in Hawaii and fly out to see Mom three or four times a year. When she fell last winter and broke her arm, I took care of her. I hired an aide to come when I had to go back home, but Mom canceled the service. She is unable to take care of the house but won't get help. My younger sister lives nearby and cleans the house and runs errands, but she has young children, and it's taking a toll on her family life. My older sister and I have both invited Mom to live with us, but she won't move away from her grandchildren or siblings, who rarely visit. Also, she likes her doctors.

Mom recently had a heart attack and was in a nursing facility for a few weeks. It did wonders for her. When she was released, she was assigned a visiting nurse and physical therapist, but Mom told them to stop coming and now she stays in bed all day. Her neighbors don't look in on her, and she has no friends in the area. None of us can afford to keep flying to her rescue and the stress is wearing on us. Any advice? — Worried in Hawaii

Dear Worried: Your mother may have passed a test for mental competency, but she should be given a test to determine executive functioning — demonstrating the ability to make decisions and understand the consequences. Notify her doctor of your concerns and suggest a more detailed evaluation, and ask if there is a geriatric assessment clinic that might make a house call since Mom is not getting around. You also should call Adult Protective Services and ask them to check in on her. There's only so much you can do with a recalcitrant parent who refuses help. Sometimes you just have to wait for the crash.

Dear Annie: For three years, I have been regularly e-mailing an old boyfriend. We are both married to others. My husband isn't aware of the correspondence because I always use the computer at work. However, my ex-boyfriend's wife just found out and wrote me a very distraught e-mail.

I replied that it was not my fault she is in an unhappy marriage. Now I feel guilty and am thinking of apologizing. Should I? I know I wouldn't want my husband to find out what I have been doing. — Old Girlfriend

Dear Girlfriend: You should apologize not only for what you said but for what you've been doing. When your husband discovers your secret correspondence (and he eventually will), your marriage could be over. Is it worth it? Stop.

Dear Annie: I want to offer your readers a wonderful source of information and support: NORD (National Organization for Rare Disorders) at It has information on unusual disorders and diseases, as well as support groups. NORD also helps people who cannot afford the costs of their medications.

It will be 15 years since I became disabled, and I'm still searching for a diagnosis. With a nephew with a rare disorder and epilepsy, a parent with Parkinson's and an uncle with ankylosing spondylitis, we have been blessed to find this group.

Please share this with your readers so they know they are not alone. — Eureka, Calif.

Dear Eureka: Thanks for reminding us of this wonderful organization. Readers can contact the National Organization for Rare Disorders at or by calling 1-800-999-6673.

Dear Annie: I am a young woman who just got out on her own into a new apartment. I did not move far from my mother and grandmother. In fact, we live within 50 feet of each other.

The problem is that they are over here constantly. When I come home from work, they are making dinner, sitting on my couch or watching TV. On my days off, which I cherish, Mom comes over early in the morning and then asks to spend the night.

I love them, it's just that I am about to scream for some personal time. If I say something about it to my mother, she cries, yells or gets very upset. She says she loves being in my place. This situation is getting on my last nerve. Any advice? — Annoyed at Home

Dear Annoyed: Yes. Move. Your mother and grandmother will continue to stop by whenever they want because you feel too guilty to set boundaries. You must allow your mother to cry and throw a tantrum without giving in. She will eventually adjust and back off but only if you insist on it and give it time to work. Otherwise, you'd best look for another apartment in a different part of town.

Annie's Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please e-mail your questions to [email protected], or write to: Annie's Mailbox, P.O. Box 118190, Chicago, IL 60611. © Creators Syndicate Inc.