THE BLOG

Eldercare Under a Mountain of Magazines

03/30/2015 11:42 am ET | Updated May 30, 2015
Elaine Ambrose

After four years of trying to cancel my mother's 53 magazine subscriptions, there are only four still coming. It could take another two years before they expire, so I'll continue to donate these and pester the companies to cancel further mailings. Residents at her former assisted living home like most of the magazines, but no one wants to order a tractor.

A few years before she died, I visited my mother in her assisted living facility. She was sitting in her wheelchair looking at a copy of ESPN magazine.

"Studying for the Super Bowl?" I asked.

"No," she responded. "I don't like sports."

I noticed the stack of magazines on her table. Forbes. Men's Health. Ebony. Jet. Yoga Today. Elle.

"Have you been taking your medications, Mom?" I asked, wondering about her sudden interest in all things young and masculine.

"I don't like those magazines," she answered. "I'm waiting for my prize."

She wheeled over to her dresser and pulled out a large envelope stuffed with "official" letters and postcards from the Office of the Senior Vice President of a well-known clearing house announcing that she was in the Winners Circle! Yes, she only had a limited time to return the card with the Official Authorization Code to be eligible to collect her millions in prizes! But the time-sensitive message was urgent!

"The next step is up to you!" screamed the bold text highlighted in bright yellow. "You could be just days away from winning! Respond today!" And, of course, Mom thought that it wouldn't hurt to subscribe to some of these magazines.

She had dutifully written notes on each and every letter: day received, amount of check enclosed, day check mailed. She already had subscribed to most of the women's magazines, including Cooking (she didn't have a kitchen) and Oprah (empowerment had never been part of her lifestyle). I tallied up the orders, and she had paid for 53 magazine subscriptions, some of them until 2016. And there was no Prize Patrol pounding on her door.

My mother wasn't stupid, just frail. She was a Depression-era woman who knew the value of a penny, and 30 years ago she helped my father manage several large businesses. In her defense, I know that she grew up in a time when women took oaths to "obey," and they believed every official-looking document they received. The evil hucksters disguised as clever marketers know how to manipulate these innocent people, but the fraud they're committing against the elderly should be labeled a criminal offense.

Canceling the subscriptions became almost as difficult as winning anything. Before she passed away, I considered staging an event to have some people show up at her door with balloons and a big (worthless) check. I really wanted her to get a prize.

If any of my midlife friends are caring for aging parents, I advise them to monitor any spending on subscriptions. Gently suggest that it's OK to have a few magazines, and if they're intent on submitting an entry in any contest, show the small print that says it's not necessary to buy more in order to qualify for any prizes. As a last resort, mention how many trees are being wasted to make the publications.

Finally, expect the magazines to come long after your parents have passed away. The tractor catalog is still addressed to my mother in care of my parent's farming company that went out of business 20 years ago. Obviously, no one in my family needs any agriculture equipment to use for spring planting. I might buy a trowel to set some petunias, but that's all.