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 email@example.com for her to respond in the column.
IT COULD BE YOU….
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
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
What shall I do?
There is a strong sense of duty running through your letter.
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
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
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
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
Take care of your marriage and it will support whatever you have
to go through.
WHAT IS PARKINSON’S?
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
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
Various non-motor symptoms may also be experienced, for example:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
for her to respond in the column.