NAOMI was torn. Her elderly, irritable, recently bereaved and increasingly confused mother was finding it hard to cope on her own. But while Naomi's conscience wouldn't allow her to put her into a home, her husband loathed his mother-in-law so bitterly that it would put Naomi's marriage under unbearable pressure to have her mother to live with them. Naomi's loyalties were divided. What could she do?

'Don't have her stay, whatever you do]' howled readers, nearly all of whom spoke from bitter experience. True, it was a no-win situation and she'd feel guilty whatever she did, but 'this is a fact of life for middle-aged daughters,' wrote Jill Lindemere, of Lymington, Hants.

Some readers revealed that there were options other than a residential home, after all. Naomi could try, like Drusilla, to get a live-in carer. 'We had the privilege of getting to know some really wonderful women who are still friends of the family, who cooked, cared for and drove my father-in-law when required,' she wrote. 'At pounds 100 a week, her wages were considerably cheaper than a good residential home and my father-in-law maintained his dignity and authority right to the end.'

Or perhaps a sheltered flat would be the answer. When her mother was 72, Maggie Hamilton of Cardiff had her to stay. 'She and my husband never liked each other but they both tried at first. 'Trying' lasted a few weeks; after that it was open hostility. I spent 14 years running round in circles failing to keep the peace between them. I'm sure the tension in our house contributed to the break-up of our marriage.

'Now, at 90, my mother lives in a sheltered flat on her own, with a home help, attends a day centre and is much happier than when she was living with us.'

Linda Collinge, an occupational therapist in a psychiatric assessment unit within an acute elderly care hospital department, said Naomi should not give up hope of her mother staying at home and urged her to see a doctor. 'Confusion is not an irreversible condition of old age,' she wrote. 'It is often at least partly due to physical illness and/or depression, among other things.' And Age Concern wrote to recommend its book Caring in a Crisis, What to Do and Who to Turn to by Marina Lewycka ( pounds 9.95).

But what if these compromises fail? Readers wrote with hair-raising stories of exhausting round-the- clock care, of sleepless nights, of children terrified by grandmothers who wandered into their bedrooms not knowing who they were, of returns from short trips to find havoc - in one case half the furniture had been sold to an unscrupulous second-hand salesman. Not to mention the misery of incontinence, and the guilt at inevitable feelings of resentment. Mary Chevalier, of London N1, predicted that 'as Naomi's mother gets worse, the community will probably become involved anyway. Naomi's home will no longer be her own, with people coming and going at all hours.'

Like many readers, Colin Smith of Hornchurch, Essex searched until he found a home he and his mother liked. 'Friendly staff who kept the residents active, no smell of urine] Now my mother has degenerated mentally, she still gives me a smile on my weekly visits and I know that had she come to live with us, neither she nor we would have been happy.'

Sandra, from Norwich, had her mother to stay at the age of 84. It was a disaster. 'There is nothing to see out of our windows except countryside, no traffic, no people, and my mother was used to living in a town. Except for reading the newspaper and watching the telly, the only other thing she did was watch me. She used to watch me cook, wash up, sort the kids out. When I went out in the garden she used to watch me from her bedroom windows front and back. It drove me crazy.' Now her mother is in a nice home, and 'honestly, very happy'.

Perhaps most telling was the fact that so many carers who wrote hoped that when they got old they would end their days in a comfortable residential home, rather than with loving, but almost certainly exhausted and resentful, relatives.

Dear Virginia

I AM the mother of a son who left his wife and I was very interested to read the piece on Tuesday's Living page about the etiquette problems encountered by the mother of a divorced daughter.

In as much as one ever knows about these things, I don't think my son behaved very well - he had an affair with a colleague at work - but he is adamant that I make no contact with my former daughter-in-law or her parents. He claims I don't know the half of it and that it was all her fault. Both my husband and I loved her very much, and we got on well with her whole family - her sisters and her parents. My husband, typically, thinks we should do nothing.

But I would like to stay in touch with her. There are no grandchildren.

How have other people coped in this difficult situation?

Yours sincerely, Celia

Please send your comments and suggestions to me at The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB (fax 071-956 1739) by Tuesday. If you have any dilemmas of your own that you would like to share, let me know.

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