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Planning Retirement Online



Relationships - November 2013

It could be you ....


Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor in private practice after 20yrs with Relate, 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.

Mum worries.

I'm 48 and visit my mother every couple of weeks.  We go shopping and have lunch out somewhere. She seems fairly happy living alone. My dad died 3 years ago.
But I worry about the state of her cottage. She has help with her little garden but doesn't like anyone coming to clean for her.  She says that has always been one of her duties and she won't give in now as no-one would do things the way she likes them done.
We get on well and she enjoys her days out, but I am noticing that she is moving more slowly now, and seem really tired by the end of our day together. She is 75 now and looks ok until her energy goes and then she sort of droops. The thing is, her house isn't as clean as I know she used to like it.  The kitchen worktops are a bit greasy and the bathroom sink and toilet look like they need a bit of bleach and a scrub. The most worrying thing is that her blood pressure pills and other pills she takes for aches and pains are all out of their packs and foils of half used pills are strewn on her dressing table. I'm worried she isn't taking the right ones at the right time – or at all some days.
When I offered to do a bit of tidying she didn't take it too well and said I was criticising her.
How can I help and protect her?

How hard it is to see a loved parent age. The awful truth is that you can't protect your mum from getting older and more frail. It is what most of us look in the face when we get to an age where we start to feel too tired to stay up to watch the late news or sport, can't stay awake during the film we really looked forward to seeing or find  travelling too exhausting. That age varies from person to person, but we all get there eventually.

Your mum has had a major life change with the loss of your dad.  3 Years is not a long time when you have been with someone your entire adult life and she will still be grieving at some level but, I hope, not depressed. Check that she is getting enough sleep and you might want to have a word with her doctor. She must miss your dad's input around the house.  Perhaps he was the one who always wiped down the kitchen counters after the cooking and clearing was done.  Maybe he was the cleaner of bathrooms.  Once you lose your life partner there is generally no-one there to do what they did, empty the bins, lock up at night, take the dog out, turn out the lights...whatever they did is now yours alone, and it can be a constant reminder of your loss. She will still be getting used to her new life alone.

Sombre bit over. What she has obviously got is plenty of pride. It is a big motivator so perhaps you might find ways of triggering it.  Does she have many visitors? I wonder how she prepares for someone other than family coming … there is a difference, I do it myself! Most surfaces get a more thorough clean, the toilets and bathroom are cleaned and a fresh hand-towel put out, dust gets the heave-ho, cushions are plumped and carpets vacuumed. Perhaps you could ask if you could bring a friend along on your visits now and then and see if she responds to a 'visitor' coming. A new face is sometimes a pleasant and stimulating change for a person living alone.

Has your mother had her eyesight tested recently? It is possible something as basic as that will mean she is missing things that would not normally be missed. But as for the pill scattering, that must concern you more. The trouble is as people age can be more resistant to being organised. Only you can be the judge of how far you can go with that, but there are pill dispensers readily available from chemists and pharmacies now which can hold individual doses for a week, or even longer.  Removing a sheet of tablets from a thin packet and pressing one pill out of the foil sheet daily is awkward and particularly tedious – sometimes painful – if finger joints are stiff. This might be something you could set up for her and keep an eye on how she gets on.

Continuing on the theme of joint problems, does your mum have joint pain or arthritis? The majority of people in their seventies will be experiencing a degree of joint stiffness, especially on rising after rest, and some loss of fine motor skills.  This along with changes in eyesight can make a huge difference to a person's ability to do things in the way they always have. It is really good that she has help in the garden and perhaps she might be persuaded to have a few hours of support in the house if you were able to approach the subject over a period rather than confront her with some statement which leaves her feeling she is not coping well enough - a tricky task, I agree. If she enjoys the fact that her lawn is cut and her flower beds are weed-free, then you might liken the non-sticky counter or shiny hand-basin to that. Explain it will be of benefit in several ways;

  • she will not have to worry the house needs a clean when she's too tired as a cleaner will do it
  • she won't be 'giving in' but will be giving employment to someone who needs it (you can assure her you'll help select someone suitable)
  • and she will be giving you peace of mind that she is well supported
  • she can pass on her knowledge to another and therefore see her 'duties' valued by a new person.

None of these reasons is a defeat.  All are gains.  You say you visit her every fortnight, could that become weekly? Maybe for a shorter time if you are really too busy to make it a full day.  You need to address this over a few visits too. Say you find you have another little bit of spare time that you want to spend with her. That way it doesn't sound like you are telling her she's not coping. That is one of the greatest fears for the elderly, which I'm sure she doesn't think she is yet…perhaps we never do! If you feel well and have a bit of energy still, it is as though old is the age always about ten years on from where you are.

This pattern is repeated wherever parents are living out their old age in their own homes, the choice for almost everyone I think. None of us want to think we cannot cope, or that we'll be a burden on our children. If we can be helped to maintain our independence and even better, to feel that we are still of use to our family, our friends and to society, so much the better.



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

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