June 8, 2010

UK: 'My mother loathes her care home'

LONDON, England / The Telegraph / Lifestyle / Health / June 8, 2010

InsideOut: our relationships expert, Sarah Abell, advises a reader whose elderly mother is unhappy at her care home.

By Sarah Abell

'My mother can't look after herself at home, but is unhappy at her care home'

Dear Sarah,

My mother, now 94, has suffered a number of heart attacks that have left her temporarily unable to look after herself. On each occasion, I have arranged for her to convalesce in a nursing home for a few weeks before returning to her house to receive support from our family and daily carers. But her latest heart attack, which happened eight weeks ago, affected her more than the previous ones, and it now seems unlikely that she will be able to return home.

On my daily visits she tells me how unhappy she is. She says the majority of other residents are “gaga” (my mother is very alert), and although she feels sorry for them she doesn’t want to sit with people who keep losing their teeth and shouting. She “never thought she’d end up in a place like this” (it is a 3-star home with lovely staff – but they can’t always respond to her wishes immediately).

I am an only child and in my mid 60s, and the strain of trying to do my best for my mother against impossible odds is beginning to tell. Alison

Dear Alison,

You are not alone in feeling the way you do. When I received your email I had just had lunch with three women, also in their 60s, who were talking about their elderly mothers and the stress and guilt they feel caring for them.

Listening to them, I was reminded of how difficult it is to be the one deciding what is best for a parent who can no longer make her own decisions. It can be even harder, if, as in your case, you have no siblings with whom to share that responsibility.

Reading your letter, I felt that what you need is encouragement, to know that you are a good daughter and that you are doing all that you can to make your mother’s last few years as comfortable as possible. She is fortunate to have a daughter who cares like you do, who visits her daily and looks out for her interests.

I know she complains but it sounds as though she would be unhappy wherever she is. Maybe she was always demanding and hard to please. Or it could be that her current self-pity is coming out of fear and uncertainty. Is she finding it difficult to accept her own mortality? Is she worried she, too, will become “gaga”? Or is she struggling to face up to the reality that she is no longer able to care for herself? If you can, try to discover what is at the root of her unhappiness. You may not be able to solve it but it may help you to empathise and to understand where her negativity is coming from.

Caring for somebody involves a degree of sacrifice but it is also vital, for both your sakes, that you take time to look after yourself. If you don’t, you may find yourself buckling under the strain. Are there other family members or friends who could visit so that you can have a day or a weekend off? Make sure that you rest, spend time doing an activity you enjoy and see people who energise you.

There are a couple of books that you may find helpful, including Now Where Did I Put My Glasses? Caring For Your Parents – a Practical and Emotional Lifeline by Jackie Highe and Coping With Your Difficult Older Parent by Grace Lebow and Barbara Kane.

Sadly, I don’t have the space here to discuss the practicalities of your mother’s situation. I would, however, suggest that you contact www.ageuk.org.uk and talk it over with them. Keep your mother abreast of any decisions that you are making and help her to see why some options are not possible for her right now. In the short term, encourage her to befriend the other residents who aren’t “gaga” and help her to discover things that she can enjoy doing when you aren’t around.

Sarah Abell
E-Mail: sarah.abell@telegraph.co.uk.

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