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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships 53
September 2006

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 in later life.

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.



My father has Parkinsons disease

A son writes:

My 86 year old father has Parkinson’s disease and everyone, including mum, expects me to look after him. I call in on my way home from work every other day and deliver heavy shopping that my wife and I do for them. I am happy to carry out odd jobs around the house too. Mum has managed quite well but can no longer cope with his increasing disability. He is a big man. She says she wants to stay in her own home but feels I could help him with the bath and toilet and in and out of his chair.

How on earth can I do this? I have a full time job and my wife doesn’t even like dad very much – I don’t get on that well with him myself and never have. My brother lives in a flat miles away so there is no way he can help, but I dread the prospect of dad coming to live with us and having the responsibility of caring for him.

I enjoy my work and my sport. I’m fit and healthy. We have regular holidays and have felt content with things the way they were until dad’s recent deterioration.
There is such pressure for me to ‘do my duty by him’ from mum, brother and my aunt, dad’s sister, that it is giving me sleepless nights. My wife is very worried that I will give in to them.

What shall I do?


Maggi replies:

There is a strong sense of duty running through your letter. You visit your parents at the end of your working day, you work in your parents’ house and garden, you and your wife shop for them. You are already doing what sounds like a fine job of being a caring and responsible son.

What you need to establish is how much of the pressure is self-generated, how much is out of concern for your mother and how much is really an expectation that you will move dad in with you to save the rest of the family any further worry. But you are also thinking about the effect that bringing dad into your home will have on your wife and on your way of life. This is where filial and marital duty don’t sit well together it seems.

Consider the issues:

  • It sounds like you are doing enough, but don’t know how to say no when others put pressure on you.

  • It is time to talk all parties concerned and tell them what you can and cannot do for your father.

  • To take him into your home would probably seem like a relief for mum to begin with, but they have been together for many years, she would be lonely - and she is no longer able to do so much for herself.

  • How would you manage to care for your father in your house and keep an eye on her in theirs?

  • Your wife would be left to care for him during the day – and she doesn’t even like him. This is bound to begin to pile pressure on your marriage eventually as she feels tired and resentful of you both, and as your father’s condition deteriorates.

  • You and he have never been close so there is not much mutual affection that would ease the strain of looking after an ailing and aged person.

It is necessary to put your reasons simply and clearly to everyone, your mother most especially. She will need your reassurance that you won’t stop doing all you realistically can to support her while dad is still able to be cared for in their own home.

If or when that changes, coming to your house will not help him; he will by then be in need of specialised nursing attention. When your mum can take this in, she will be able to talk to your aunt and explain things. But it would be good if you could talk to her as well. It is clear that your aunt is worried about her brother and maybe would be happy to be more involved if she were clear about what she could do.

It sounds as though he could do with some home help already. Have you been in touch with Social Services? Have a word with dad’s GP too. There are so many ways in which people can be helped to stay in their own homes while living with Parkinson’s disease (PD). You don’t mention if you have found you local branch of the PD Society, but they are easily located through the web and in your local telephone directory. The PDS have specialist support workers and nurses who visit homes and advise on care, as well as giving practical help.

You assume that because your brother lives miles away there is little he can do. Is this because he is unwilling, or physically unable, or just due to the apparent impracticality of distance? Talk with him. Ask if there is a way he could put a few hours aside occasionally at weekends and come over to help you deal with your parents’ house and garden chores. He has as much of a responsibility to help them as you, and may feel satisfied that he too has done all he can. Perhaps he isn’t sure what he can do to lend a hand and would be pleased to feel included – and needed by his brother.

Have a word with your parent’s neighbours if they have been friends for a long time. Thank them for being there. Reassure them that you are, as a family, doing all you can to see that your parents are supported, that it isn’t practical to move dad away from his home at this point, and that, as friends, their calls and visits are much appreciated and needed by them both – by dad for the stimulation he gets from a fresh face popping in to say hello, and from mum for the comfort of knowing there is someone coming in to break the strain of being on her own with her husband all day, every day.

Lastly, but importantly, talk to your wife. Tell her how much you value her help in what at times can be a difficult task. Reassure her too. She needs to know that you appreciate her support, helping out even when she isn’t fond of your dad. Tell her you are going to make sure he is cared for in the best place for his needs. Although the best place is often assumed by outsiders to be with an able-bodied son or daughter, this is not always so.

For many people, nursing a parent can feel like a natural and rewarding next stage in a loving relationship with mum or dad, but it can also be very taxing and distressing work. When there is no emotional bond, the strain can lead to a speeding up of signs of their deterioration, illness in the carer and even maltreatment of the sufferer as they become more difficult to care for.

Take care of your marriage and it will support whatever you have to go through.


Living with Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's is a progressive neurological condition affecting movements such as walking, talking, and writing. Parkinson's occurs as result of a loss of nerve cells in the part of the brain known as the substantia nigra. These cells are responsible for producing a chemical known as dopamine, which allows messages to be sent to the parts of the brain that co-ordinate movement. With the depletion of dopamine-producing cells, these parts of the brain are unable to function normally.

The symptoms of Parkinson's can be classified as motor and non-motor. Motor symptoms define Parkinson's, with three primary features:
1. Tremor - which usually begins in one hand. This is the first symptom for 70 percent of people with Parkinson's.
2. Slowness of movement (bradykinesia) - people with Parkinson's may find that they have difficulty initiating movements or that performing movements takes longer.

3. Stiffness or rigidity of muscles - problems with activities such as standing up from a chair or rolling over in bed may be experienced.

Various non-motor symptoms may also be experienced, for example:

  • sleep disturbances

  • constipation

  • urinary urgency

  • depression

120,000people in the UK alone suffer from Parkinson's disease. It is a very individual condition, with each person experiencing different symptoms. To find out more visit


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


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