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Planning Retirement Online



Relationships - March 2014

Talking it through


Maggi Stamp is a highly qualified relationship counsellor and trainer who writes each month about emotional and practical concerns and challenges that many of us meet in later life. For 20 years, as well as running a private practise, Maggi worked with the organisation Relate to help married and single people, cohabiting couples, same sex couples, families, young and old people and the bereaved to develop, foster and enjoy healthy and fulfilling relationships. No less important, as she is herself a wife, mother and grandmother, she brings a lifetime of varied and eventful experience to enhance her empathy and understanding.  

Many of her examples are based on concerns that clients, family and friends have presented over the years. In the monthly articles where she responds to issues raised by readers, she strictly respects confidentiality and never identifies those who write to her. But the individual worries they raise are invariably felt by others, so her responses can help many.

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

The Care Concern

We live in a part of England where there appears to be a dearth of good care homes. We have looked at all of them and my nurse tells me she cannot recommend any. So what do we do when we are left alone - I am terrified of being alone and it has become a painful ceaseless thought.
Do other people in their 70s have these fears? And how do we conquer them?

You speak for many. By the time people have reached their mid-seventies thoughts of what the coming years are likely to bring is regularly in their minds.  As one of a couple, almost inevitably one will die before the other and it is not just the loss of a spouse or partner which haunts the mind, it is the fear of loneliness or the inability to live alone. The same fear is in the minds of many who already live alone...'What happens when I can no longer manage?'

Today's newspaper reports a piece of research from the University of Chicago, which indicates “loneliness can increase chances of a premature deaths in the elderly by almost 15 per cent.” The research team found that feeling isolated can lead to broken sleep, higher blood pressure and raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Almost half of people over 80 in Britain say they feel lonely some or all of the time. This is a number which can only increase as the ageing post-war generation bubble reaches full effect on the already stretched network of care homes across the country.  That your nurse feels she cannot recommend any homes in your area is a worry for you.....and there are a lot, I have just Googled 'elderly care homes' in the areas you have mentioned and found so many I hardly knew where to start. On various websites, you can narrow your selection options to make the list clearer. Then the process of narrowing down the possible ones to visit becomes simpler. Many sites offer lists of care facility specialisms, such as dementia care, stroke, mobility, hearing and the like, to indicate they have particular areas of expertise. Once you click on the options you feel you need, you can select care with or without nursing, the choice of bringing your own furniture or even pet, again you will have a shorter list.
It was good to ask your nurse first and it is rather disheartening to hear she can recommend none she knows of. But then, if you two, with the help of family or friends, were able to visit the ones you find on the internet listings which sound acceptable, you will be finding out for yourself. With any luck you might find one or two which seem ok.  It might be worth checking with your nurse again in case she knows of them, or someone who works in them. She could be very useful to you in this way.

If you have family, try to involve them as much as you can in your choice. They need to feel you will be well looked after and can resettle comfortably, that it is close enough for them to visit regularly, and, importantly, that you and perhaps they, can afford it. Many people will not have the option of choosing where they go except through the local NHS funded care homes. These can be wonderful at best and, sadly, at times pretty awful. I'm sure many of you will have had the experience of visit family or friends in a home and will have noticed the difference there can be between one and another. Ask neighbours and friends about their experiences, they are often a mine of information.

While you are still well enough, and in your own home, do think carefully about the sort of thing which would make a care home inviting. Are you a reader, or someone who likes to make music? Perhaps you enjoy sitting in a garden, or making things? Would a facility that allows you to paint or sew appeal, or an occasional bus to take a few of you to the local shops or cinema? Would having a few of your own things around you and privacy be important? Or a welcoming attitude to visiting family and friends?  I suspect that it would be too many, including myself.

One of my close friends had an aunt who loved baking. When she went into a care home in Yorkshire she was encouraged to use the kitchens, so delicious were her cakes and buns. In fact, she was so prolific she had to be distracted from more baking until the other residents had eaten all her produce! She baked happily there for many years.

For some elderly residents, to have warmth, hot meals, clean clothes and bed linen, and a comfy chair to watch TV is enough. For others it is definitely not enough. It is important that you make it clear what sort of interests you have, so that can be considered when the time comes for you to find a care home. And write it down if possible, get a family member to help you with this if it is difficult for you and leave it somewhere it can easily be someone else, or, if you are like me, by yourself at a later date.

Do not forget to check on what facilities there are in your area to help you stay at home. Increasingly, due to the strain on residential place availability, councils are trying hard to help folk remain in their own homes wherever this is possible. Most people I know tell me they would want to be cared for at home.

Many also feel that it is too much to expect their children to take them into their homes. Yet, how short a time ago it was that caring for mum or dad...or even auntie or uncle, was an accepted part of the family 'deal'. In many countries it happens still, but in the UK, Western Europe and America it is sadly increasingly rare. The family has split into much smaller units in the last 30 years and people move across country, or continents, to live and work. Even so, most children will still care about their parents' well-being.

So, with the wonders of the World Wide Web at most of our finger-tips, we can help the older generation, by doing what I have just done. Key 'elderly care homes' in whatever area is required, into your search engine, and hunt that way. Email or phone social services close to your parents’ home to find out what home care facilities are available....or your own, if, as a son or daughter, you want to move your parent closer to you.

The short answer to this query is, think about what you want, need and can afford. Using all the information facilities open to you, match that up with what is available, well before the time you will need it. Then it’s one thing less to worry over.


Next month Maggi will look at the fear of being alone.


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

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