Click here to print this page

Planning Retirement Online

Relationships - 19


It could be you.... 

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor for Relate and in private practice, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet as we pass our half-way markers.  For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.  

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.


Alzheimer's: How Do We Cope?   

Last month I wrote of my recent personal experience of being with a family member with Alzheimer's disease. This has brought a response from several people who ask "what about us, the adult children of a sufferer?"

They have told me of their own feelings about what is happening to their parent and of the way their attitude to both parents has changed as the disease progresses. Here are some of the topics that have come up...

The frustrations of living/working at a distance

"How often should I go to see my mum?  It's so hard, when I think this could be the last time I may be able to communicate with her."
"Though I have been visiting her more frequently, it never seems enough. It's even more difficult knowing that the only time she gets any stimulation is when people visit or take her out."

These comments highlight how hard it is to come to terms with a disease which inexorably takes away the parent who has cared for you through childhood, seen you into adulthood and has probably continued to be a vital part of your life, a major support as you produce you own children or go through the many trials and joys of life.

Most of us grow used to our parents always being around, engaged at a measurable level with what is happening in our own lives. If that parent develops Alzheimer's,  they are still there physically for some years, but we can never know from one visit to the next how emotionally and intellectually they will be there.  

  • We can only be prepared to expect anything that may happen. It may help to discuss problems with the staff, and to telephone before a visit to get some idea of  current developments.

Watching the person you love changing

"The changes in my mum between visits have usually been imperceptible, but on a few occasions I've been taken aback by the deterioration. Then, sometimes, the next time I visit she seems better."  
" It feels impossible to grow accustomed to the way our parent is deteriorating. There are times when he will be ready for a nice trip out in the car or a long chat, but there will also be times when he is withdrawn and distant, even vacant."

The progress of the disease is certain, but the short-term variation is unpredictable.

For the visiting son or daughter this is very painful. It feels like a rejection and yet most are aware that this is nothing more than the effect of the disease and may not last, though gradually it will become established in the final stages of the illness.  

  • We have no choice but to hold our expectations in abeyance and deal with whatever presents itself to us when we visit. Again, it may help to talk to someone.

Seeing the carer parent react in what seems like an inappropriate way

"My dad is very self-centred. He does not like his fellow human beings and has spent many years since his retirement avoiding them. Despite the fact that mother would benefit greatly from outside help, he refuses to have anyone in their home."

"When, after some heated discussion, I told him that all of us who care about mum were very unhappy about her not receiving the care she needs, his response was "Well, you'll all just have to be unhappy. It's my home and I'll decide who comes in." I was very angry. I never got on with Dad, but this took my feelings about him to an all-time low".  

This is a far from uncommon problem and can lead to very painful conflict within the family just at a time when everyone needs each other’s support more than ever. It can make some people think badly of the 'carer' parent and see their early experience as a child of that parent in a different light. They may feel extreme anger, sadness or frustration at what they feel was missing and what they see as similarly missing for their ill parent now.

 It is painful in the extreme to lose respect for a parent and feel in some way let down by them. In some instances this review of their childhood and the parenting they received may trigger depression or early grieving.

  • These feelings are natural, but one way to make them more bearable is to remind oneself that the parent may have been a steadfast provider in their day, reliable even if lacking in affection, and doing in fact, the best that he can do.

Coping with feelings

"At times I've had to 'reset' the image of my mum that I have, "This isn't my mum.  She's a new person I need to get to know". That helps a bit. I can still enjoy the memory of that lively, irrepressible lady that I used to know and appreciate being with the person she is now."

As the disease progresses the parent we knew is less and less present. Their personality appears to change and we have no option but to accept the person who is before us. They may be tearful or vacant, angry and awkward, childlike, clinging and fearful. Letting go of our parent as Alzheimer's takes over is a slow and very distressing process. It demands our greatest strengths and efforts to be able to adjust to each change as it happens.  

  • We need to hold the memory of how the parent used to be and cherish that as we try to cherish the person we watch and possibly even struggle with at times.
    This may be a gentler way of coping with the very different feelings towards the 'carer' parent as well. Perhaps there was some element of kindness or humour which we can hang on to, value and recall with a smile to soften the present just a little. It is a long hard journey for all concerned.

We hope you find the column useful and interesting …  and if you have any comments or suggestions, Maggi would like to hear from you.   Either share some your own experiences in the laterlife forum  or email her on .


You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

To view previous articles  - see the Relationship Counselling & Advice Index page  



Advertise on