Recently I’ve had to examine my mindset around asking for help to support my 91-year old mum.
My experience is relevant I think, not just for children caring for elderly parents, but also for others, where the support needs to enable a loved one to remain as independent as they can, are constantly increasing never decreasing.
And most importantly in this conversation, as always for me, is the need for those people who need support, to retain their dignity at a time where this can be deeply compromised.
Last week I had an email from the daughter of a woman who is supporting her mother.
The daughter is worried that her mum feels she cannot be vulnerable, and from all the conversations I have with people who are supporting loved ones – we are mostly in the same boat!
For my part, my elderly parents moved up to live closer to us almost 6 years ago so that we could help them more easily, and on a more regular basis.
With my mother’s failing memory – diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia at the end of 2017 – the inevitable result has been an increasing lack of her ability to organise anything beyond very simple, long embedded daily habits, and even those are now becoming less reliable.
About 18 months ago a very good friend and neighbour – seeing the
increasing support we were providing for my parents – gently suggested that we couldn’t sustain this, and really needed to be looking to others to include in the process.
I said that I agreed with him, and I did – in principle.
Unfortunately, that little person in my head said: “I’m capable, I’m strong, I’m responsible, and the BIG one – I feel guilty at the thought of not doing it myself.”
Not feeling guilty about asking others for help – I don’t actually have a problem with that – guilty for not being able to cover everything for my mother.
Isn’t that what good daughters are supposed to do?
Isn’t that what my mother did for me?!?!?!?!
So here we are, much further down the track.
Mum’s memory is worse, therefore her ability to manage daily tasks, including medical treatments, is unreliable.
Do we need help from others now, yes, absolutely.
Is my mother open to this? Absolutely not!
Until now, we have steadfastly saved mum from what for her, is the devastating insult of outsiders coming into her home to “tell her what to do.”
She knows she isn’t managing, but still her pride is in the way.
In her mind, it’s not that she expects us to do more – on the contrary, she often laments the fact that we do so much for her – it’s that she doesn’t actually realise where she’s at, and her diminishing executive cognitive function means that she can’t actually weigh it all up properly.
Importantly too, her knowledge is based on her own experience of seeing her mother and uncle “stuck” in a nursing home – and it was not a happy picture!
The truth for us now though is, that we cannot provide more support than we already do, and a few things that happened through the Christmas break have brought to a head what now needs to happen.
It has required a significant change in my own mindset, but crossing into this new headspace has allowed me to be just a LITTLE more objective, and perhaps just a LITTLE more removed emotionally.
It’s a bit like when you’re in a plane – you MUST put your own mask on first, before you can help others!
So my message to all of the daughters, the sons, the parents and the siblings out there who are caring for loved ones:
It’s OK to do the best you can
It’s OK ask for help
It’s OK to look after yourself too
In fact, it’s essential – if you go down because you can’t cope, who will be there if you are the only source of support?
Put the mask on!
Who do you know that’s just not managing the day to day because of memory problems?
Whether it’s because of dementia, an acquired brain injury or a mental illness – the result is stress and worry for individuals and for families and carers.
We can help!