Why do some people resist the help they need, while others accept it?
With advancing memory loss as the result of Alzheimer’s Dementia, to say that my 91 year-old mum is resistant to help from anyone but her nearest and dearest is an understatement!
But the truth now is that she really NEEDS to accept help if she wants to continue to live in her own home, and this presents a very difficult situation for both my mother and for us.
Thus far, my husband and I have been able to provide the support she needs, but as her memory deteriorates, so too does her ability to manage a range of higher functioning activities.
Up until now, essentially we have helped her with practical things – making and driving her to appointments, managing her bank accounts, helping her to do her supermarket shopping and so on.
But now we are faced with another more pressing issue - she has been trying to manage a skin condition for herself, but has failed to carry out the treatment effectively.
It’s not life-threatening, but it has meant that a condition which should have been cleared up in 4 to 6 weeks, is only partially better 4 months later.
That must seem like negligence to some, but if you live with the same sorts of challenges, then you understand it’s not a simple thing to support someone who needs help, but who doesn’t want it, and what’s more, doesn’t realise he or she needs it!
Add to this conundrum the complication that comes if you’re emotionally
involved, and if your intention is to help this person remain independent and with dignity for as long as possible - which by its very nature means enabling them to contribute to the decisions that affect their lives.
Enter my mother who doesn’t want “outsiders telling her what to do!”
Following a rather challenging weekend, I found myself in a long conversation with my husband this morning, and we were musing – not for the first time - on the reasons my mother is so VEHEMENTLY opposed to accepting help – potentially now, to her own detriment.
Her story is that she lived the classic “get married and have children” story that was so common in her generation.
Coming from an affluent family, she didn’t work before she married my father at the age of 21. He was in a good job, so I guess the question of my mother working simply didn't come onto the radar.
She busied herself looking after her man, renovating a house, and managing their huge social calendar.
Then my brother arrived, followed a couple of years later by me.
My mother’s picture was complete.
She was in her element!
She was a stay-at-home wife & mum - she adored us, and was proud of the important role she played.
But I wonder whether the truth is that her whole sense of self revolved around maintaining this picture.
And if that’s right, it leads me to wonder if her resistance to “help” is fundamentally rooted here - if she can’t cook her food, do her laundry, or administer a simple skin condition treatment, where does that leave her?
What does she have left?
By comparison, my husband Mark’s mum grew up on a farm in New Zealand, and worked in shop from a young age.
With many of their young men heading overseas to serve in WWII she had a VERY different path to my mother’s.
Not only did she work as a girl and very young woman, she was head-
hunted by a larger organisation - imagine that - and through the 1950s & 60s, went on to own two businesses of her own, and to help her husband in his.
Not only that, they were avid golfers, and that meant weekends playing golf, often being away playing at other golf clubs dotted around the north and south islands of New Zealand.
She’s gone now, but I can tell you that as a 91-year old, she wasn’t fighting being “helped”!
She was saying, "bring it on!"
Not only that, " What do I need to make sure I get to choose where I live?"
So, my question is:
"Is it the case that my mother’s identity is so bound up with the day-to-day actions of a stay-at-home mum, that it’s now stopping her from making the decisions she needs to make to have the best life she can?"
And more importantly, how do we, as her primary carers, encourage her to think about these things in the right way? To accept the help she needs so that she gets to choose where she lives, and how her life will be from now on?
With the ever-growing number of people being diagnosed with dementia – set to hit 160 million people globally by 2050 - for my part, I hope that when I'm presented with these choices, I will choose well.
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