How can I get mum to take my worries about her seriously?
I'm so worried about my mum. She's had two falls in the last few months, with the last one resulting in her cutting her head open in three places.
After the last fall I took her to see a lovely retirement flat that has a warden but offers independent living. She liked it and said it was something to think about “for the future”.
Then this week she's had a car accident. “Nothing much” turns out to be a complete write-off! She's keen to buy another car, but her mobility issues - she's riddled with arthritis and has had cervical spondylosis for years, meaning that she can barely turn her head - worry me no end.
I'm recently divorced, can't move nearer as being an “older” teacher I stand no chance of getting another job and have to work. My brother just tells her to slow down! I phone twice a week and go up every holiday, but the house is getting dirtier every time. She won't let me do anything and insists she can manage.
When she comes to stay with me she won't bathe or take a shower because she says my bath is too high. I know she isn't using the bath at home as it's full of dust. Now she is beginning to have continence issues. The worry is starting to make me ill and I just don't know what to do!
I’m so sorry to hear about your worrying situation. Everyone who uses this site will identify with the anxiety you describe. It sounds like you feel stuck and powerless to act, and to make things worse, your mother and your brother refuse to take your concerns seriously.
However, it does seem like your mother is at risk. You don’t mention her age or the reason for her falls but the last fall was serious and the next one could be worse. Her driving is also a worry.
Being proactive about risk
Unfortunately families often wait until there is a crisis before acting and then have to put less than ideal arrangements in place in a hurry. You, on the other hand, are well aware of the issues and have already started to think how to tackle them. As a teacher, you’ll be aware of the importance of safeguarding, so perhaps it’s time to take a deep breath and get proactive?
The best first step at this stage would be a social services assessment. The council have a duty to do this and can provide a clear and objective view on your mother’s needs plus ideas for how to support her. She does have to agree to this so you will probably need to think how to persuade her.
I talk to a lot of “children” of ageing parents who describe their parents as “stubborn”. And indeed sometimes they are! But underneath, I think we can understand and identify with some of the emotions – denial about ageing, loss of independence, fear of change. Acknowledging this can make it less of a battle of wills and more of a discussion between two adults.
Finding someone who’ll be heard
Can you (and perhaps your brother) open up a conversation with your mum about how much you are worrying, what your concerns are and ask her if she has any of her own?
Or if you could get your mum to visit her GP on a pretext you might be able to get the GP to outline the need for an assessment. Older people often take advice from professionals in a way they won’t do with their offspring!
Alternatively does she have any friends or contemporaries who could join in the conversation, discuss the “joys” of ageing, tell her how living in assisted accommodation or having a cleaner has worked better than expected, and offer suggestions?
Managing your time with your mother
I understand they you may not want to take time off work but if you really do get ill with worry, or your mother has a crisis, you may be forced to do so.
It might be better to use some holiday time, or take a few days of compassionate leave if possible, to focus on trying to have some serious conversations with your mother and your brother, talking to the council, the GP, and gearing up for making some changes.
Talking to manage anxiety
Finally, the worry...
Anxiety and guilt are the words I hear most often when people talk about their ageing parents. You will be in a better position to help your mother, if you look after yourself and you will need to feel strong to handle this situation.
A problem shared is a problem halved – talking things through would make you feel like you have some support for yourself, could enable you to gain perspective and find some answers. I would be happy to talk to you in confidence (I offer one phone call for free). So please contact me if you think that would help.
Unfortunately this situation won’t improve on its own so please do find the courage to take control. However it turns out, I think you will feel a lot better once you start to move forward
This article was published in April 2016
If you have a challenge in coping with caring for older family and friends why not Ask Lesley? Simply email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll aim to publish your question with a response in good time.
Dr Lesley Trenner is an Ageing Parent specialist with extensive qualifications and experience in life coaching. Lesley provides one-to-one help for people who are struggling to balance work and care, or cope with mid-life, family and career challenges. Sessions are available face-to-face (London) or on the phone. Email Lesley or call 07919 880 250 for a free introductory chat. You can also visit her Facebook page.
Found this article useful? Take a look at our other Ask Lesley dilemma Q&As and more relevant articles:
5 tips for preventing falls in the house
Treading the tricky path between nagging and persuading
Understanding the options in eldercare
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