Oprah facing same issue as many Americans; struggles to care for her aging mom


Oprah Winfrey may be one of the world’s richest women, but that doesn’t mean she is immune from the same problems as many other people. The dilemma of caring for her ailing 73-year-old mom is causing the talk show diva a lot of stress. According to the National Enquirer, Oprah’s mom is as feisty and independent as her daughter, and refuses to move in with her or go to an assisted living facility.

“Oprah is facing the same dilemma as many other Americans- her mother Vernita Lee can no longer live independently and her doctors say it’s time for assisted living,” a long time family friend told The Enquirer. “Oprah is devastated. She is devoted to her mother, but Vernita Lee won’t accept the idea.”

Vernita now lives in a Milwaukee condominium that Oprah bought for her. While she’s fiercely independent, her health is failing, according to the source.

“She’s a severe diabetic, her eyesight is failing and she barely gets around with a cane. She’s also becoming increasingly forgetful,” said the family friend.

Vernita’s condo building has a doorman and 24-hour security, but she’s refusing to get live-in help or even a companion, said the source.

“Obviously, it’s not a money problem – and Oprah would love to have her mother live with her full time in Chicago. But Vernita insists on living on her own, and Oprah is starting to freak out,” said the friend.

Oprah came up with what she thought was the ideal solution – moving Vernita into a facility that’s only two blocks away from her current home. Called St. John’s on the Lake, residents can live in their own apartments and receive assisted care for their personal needs, daily activities and monitoring of medications.

But when Oprah brought up the idea, “Vernita burst into tears,” said the source.

Adding to Oprah’s worries, she recently called her mom’s home and got no answer.

When she confronted her mom, Vernita was typically dismissive,” said the source. “She told Oprah, ‘Oh honey, I was probably sleeping. Or when my knees are hurting, I just let the phone ring. You don’t need to worry about me. Let me worry about me!’”

[From the National Enquirer print version, Aug. 11, 2008]

This is a tough situation for anyone, and it goes to prove that none of us can fix everything with money. I remember when my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it was a very difficult decision to put him into a nursing home that specialized in Alzheimer’s patients. But after the second time he managed to “escape” from my grandparents’ home, get the keys to my grandmother’s car, drive himself to the middle of nowhere and get completely lost, we all knew it was time. It must be agonizing for Oprah to be constantly worrying about her mom- did she take her medication? Has she fallen down without anyone knowing? Is she eating ok? I know I would be a total mess. Hopefully Oprah and the rest of the family can help her mom understand that assisted living isn’t the same as a “nursing home” and she’ll still be free to come and go as she pleases.

Oprah is shown in London on 6/25/08. Credit: WENN

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19 Responses to “Oprah facing same issue as many Americans; struggles to care for her aging mom”

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  1. Kaiser says:

    Where is Oprah’s dad? Are her parents divorced?

    But for once I feel for Oprah. My dad is an arthritic, diabetic senior who loves his independence. My nerves are a wreck.

  2. geronimo says:

    Tough one. Very smpathetic to anyone in this situation, had an early onset of Alzheimer family member and it was the most harrowing experience of my life. Alzheimers is worse than death.

    But at least this doesn’t seem to be the case here, just a very independent, if frail and failing, woman who sounds like she’ll keep fighting for her independence. I hope they manage to find a compromise so her mother’s remaining time is not fraught with worry for Oprah or misery for her fiesty mother.

  3. daisy424 says:

    The Guradian has an article on a ‘breakthrough’ for treatment of Alzheimer’s dementia. Sounds very promising.

  4. Edith says:

    In response to Kaiser’s question: Oprah’s dad is in Nashville. Parents have been separated for some time. Last I heard he still runs a barber shop and has a street named for him. I hear she stops through town on occasion and visits with him.

  5. RReedy says:

    Oh BOO HOO!!!

  6. kate says:

    my granny suffered from alzheimer’s, and it was nightmarish to watch a beautiful, smart, independent woman become like a toddler. my sympathies to anyone going through it. as for myself? no way – i am keeping a bottle of sleeping pills and a bottle of vodka handy in case i am ever diagnosed with it.

  7. Leandra says:

    My dad refused any help until things had become pretty desperate. The health care workers told me that in a lot of cases nothing can be done until some sort of crisis happens…they fall and break a hip, etc. It isn’t easy for them to give up their independence but it’s also hard on the family. You really don’t feel you have the right to remove them kicking and screaming from their residence. Oprah may have all the money in the world but it is meaningless when it comes to dealing with an aging parent who doesn’t want help.

  8. Syko says:

    Definitely a tough situation. There’s Alzheimers on both sides of my family tree, I have to keep reminding myself that forgetting where your keys are is forgetfulness, forgetting what your keys are is Alzheimers. It’s very sad to watch vivid, very much alive people lose their personalities to this disease. And very hard for them to get the help they need. One aunt worried herself into a heart attack before they took her husband to the nursing home.

    You’re right about the crisis situations, Leandra. One of my aunts put up with her husband defecating on their bed for months because she felt like she couldn’t kick him out. Finally he got pneumonia, and the doctor insisted she move him directly from the hospital to the nursing home. He never seemed to realize he was there.

  9. Tracey says:

    I seen her look after DOGS better

  10. DCBRAT says:

    I don’t believe this story – if it was Oprah’s father in this situation, I would definitely believe it. Anyone who has watch Oprah over the years knows her relationship with her mother has never ever been on a good note. Oprah loves her mother and takes care of her because it’s the right thing to morally. Just a few years ago, their was stories in Chicago about her not increasing her mother monthly expenses, so I don’t buy this one. I’ve lived in Chicago for 5 years, stuff they use to discuss on the local news concerning her relationship with her mother and family members, I can’t see her stressing too much.

  11. countrybabe says:

    Why would she stress? Oprah has got the money unlike most of us to hire in home people to take care of her mom. If her mom doesn’t want to go that’s all she can do for now.

  12. Kristen says:

    One thing we can all take from this is that it’s important to have decisions like these made before it becomes an issue. When older folks are diagnosed with dementia, they’re no longer in their right mind, and they don’t realize that by demanding independence they’re actually causing more grief for their family. We’ve been through that situation, and now I have a strict understanding of what my parents want and what I want. Still tough to deal with, though.

  13. vdantev says:

    She’s a billionaire, I really feel for her struggle (NOT), unlike my mom who’s retired and has to spend her savings visiting and caring for my grandmother with Alzheimer’s.

  14. vdantev says:

    She’s a b*ll*ona*re, so I really feel for her struggle (NOT). It’s not like my mother who’s retired and has to spend her life savings to visit and care for my grandma with Alzheimer’s.

  15. Shane says:

    Oprahs got the money to take action if/when her mom allows it. No sad story here. The sad story is for anyone growing old without money, especially in developing countries or God forbid a Muslim country where an old woman is basically worthless.

  16. Hayes says:

    FYI People. I don’t know where the enquirer obtained this information but it is a bold face lie! Oprah is not stressed over her mom! Believe me when I tell you she’s not and probably never will be.

  17. Pick Me says:

    sorry to hear about her mom. its hard to even think about doing something like this. nothing happens before its time. O, i’m praying for you stay strong.

  18. florence says:

    Is this about money ? cos it does not realy matter we are talking about human beings here Lee doesn’t allow O to help period what is she suppose to do treat her like a child force her into doing something she’s not kin to do? please people grow up.

  19. Anonymous says:

    wen did this article take place??????? is her mom still alive????