Monday, 13 March 2017

Silent mum

What do you do with a 94 year old mother who's immensely secretive, won't discuss her problems and mishaps, doesn't want anyone to know about them, doesn't want anyone to interfere or make decisions on her behalf, and is almost impossible to contact anyway because she won't answer her landline, doesn't have a mobile phone and doesn't have email?

It's a maddening and frustrating situation. I know from third parties (usually days later) that my mum is regularly having falls and being taken to hospital for check-ups, but she won't discuss her falls or why she might be having them so it's highly likely she'll be having more.

Her memory's not too good, she may be forgetting to pay bills, walking is getting more difficult, and she has a flat full of junk and clutter that needs to be cleared out (and which she may be tripping on). But she refuses to discuss any of these things, insists she's on top of everything and says there's no need to worry.

Most of my information comes from other people - my brother in law (who lives nearby), social workers, carers, paramedics, her GP, the managers of her sheltered housing block. Trying to get anything out of my mum is like getting blood out of a stone. She's happy to tell me about her favourite TV programmes or last week's musical evening. But her personal problems - forget it.

Without knowing the cause of her falls, it seems that all we can do (my brother in law, my sister and I) is accept she's going to have more of them, and just hope they aren't serious enough to cause broken bones or some major injury.

Probably she doesn't want to worry us, but then we just worry about all the things she's not telling us.

Pic: not my mum!

33 comments:

John Gray said...

If she can make autonomous decisions, is of sound mind and understands the risks nothing can be done

Nick said...

Thanks, John. I know your job means you're well informed about this sort of situation.

Anonymous said...

We must be just kind with old persons whether it's our mum or others. My grandmum is 96, I love her as she is. Very stubborn never asking for help, still cooking and cleaning and always saying everything is okay. My parents ( grandmum is my father's mother) would like to take her to their house ( much place for everyone ), but she is horrified at this idea and claims loudly her independance. When we are calling in the morning she takes the phone saying yes yes I'm still alive. So my family is accepting her wish to live on her own and sometimes she makes us really laugh with her life style.
Mia More

Nick said...

Mia: It's great that your grandmum is still so independent and so capable at that age. My mum does very little cleaning or cooking nowadays, and isn't very active at all. But she is still fiercely independent despite all her difficulties.

Ursula said...

You ask "what do you do with ...?. Nothing, Nick. Let it be. Let her be. It's her life - with her a foot or one and a half in the grave, some kindness and laissez-faire will go a long way.

Sure she will keep falling. And one day it'll be her downfall. In the meantime do respect her wish to be independent. As to her being "secretive". Some people are private. Which is something that needs to be respected. Anyway, what is it you wish to know and why do I sense anger and irritability on your part?

And what's the rush to "declutter" her place? Won't be long till you'll have the opportunity to do so without her "interfering". In the meantime please do remember that what might be clutter to you is, most likely, the accumulation and evidence of a life lived, memories she cherishes. Who of us won't be anguished at "letting go"? Patience, Nick, patience.

U

Nick said...

Ursula: All very wise comments. Thanks. I do respect her independence and I try to avoid interfering with her life, even when she seems to be absurdly stubborn about something. As John says, if she wants to take risks, that's her business, not mine. By "secretive", I just meant that there are things it would be helpful to know about that she keeps to herself. Anger and irritability? A little maybe, but mainly just frustration that she is so incommunicado. And I suppose a feeling that other people are judging me as uncaring because I'm not "doing enough" for my mum.

My brother in law and I have suggested several times she could do a bit of decluttering, partly because the block managers say it's a fire hazard. But as you rightly say, one day I'll be able to declutter without any interference. You're right, there could be a lot of cherished memories in all that "clutter". And you're also right that I should be more patient.

Z said...

It's not really the act of a confident person who's coping well, not to mention any problems at all. It sounds more like fear, that in acknowledging where she isn't managing so well, it makes it more real - and possibly she thinks her wishes will be overridden.

Is there any way of asking about something you know she's got, such as an old photo album, for example, that would give a reason to look through some of the things with a positive result? It could lead to finding items that would give you both pleasure to look at. Or maybe you've tried all this sort of thing and there's not really anything to be done except occasionally let off steam to sympathetic friends, some of whom have been in very similar situations.

Nick said...

Z: There might well be some fear that her wishes will be ignored. But up till now I think she's very much done her own thing without any interference from the rest of the family.

The photo album idea is good but not practical for me as I live 350 miles away and don't visit her very often (I'm in Belfast and she's in St Ives in Cambridgeshire). I've tried in the past to get her to talk some more about her childhood and her early life, which is very much a mystery to me, but she's not interested.

Z said...

It's being so stubborn that's keeping her going, I guess. My mother would be 94 this November if she were still with us, she always made her own decisions too. At least, as she's in sheltered housing, she isn't alone for long when she falls.

Maria said...

My mother is still very independent and does everything on her own. Her biggest fear is falling because she would hate us, her two daughter, to have to assist her because she says we have enough on our plates as it is! She's actually the one who assists me when I'm not well.
Greetings Maria x

Dave Martin said...

It seems to be a common trait of old folk that they 'Don't want to cause a problem' and are resistant to any form of assistance.
It's hard to step back and let them get on with it, but I suppose we have to respect their wishes as long as they're not in mortal danger.

Dave Martin said...

So she only lives about 15-20 miles from me? Small world.

Nick said...

Z: I think that's right, it's the stubbornness that keeps her going. That and the pacemaker!

Maria: I think most oldies are worried about becoming a burden to their family or friends. Especially, as you say, if they lead hectic lives of their own.

Nick said...

Dave: As John says, if they're compos mentis, you shouldn't interfere. But that's hard when you're convinced they need some help.

Yes, not far from you. In fact I seem to remember mentioning on your blog once that I took her to Ely to see the cathedral. I'm not sure she'd be fit enough for that any more. My brother in law and sister live in St Ives as well. He and I are in close contact over my mum's situation.

helen devries said...

Oh, that phrase 'I didn't want to worry you, living so far away...' encapsulating as it does her independence and a good try at inducing guilt.
Fine for the former, but after all these years there's no chance on the guilt attempt.

She lives alone, but has help and friends call every day. It is the friends who alert me to her occasional mishaps as she 'does not want to bother me'.

I know that she wants to stay in her own home and is suspicious of any intervention by social services in case there is pressure to accept a place in residential care. I fully support her in this respect.

However, I wish she would accept that getting out of bed with the cosh she keeps on the bedside table because she hears a noise in the night is not a good idea. After a fall -more of a slip to the ground - thus incurred she has finally agreed to have a security light in her bedroom.

The other thing I would like her to accept is not locking herself in when there is racing on the television to avoid disturbances. She slipped to the floor on that occasion and her friend had to ask her son to come from work and break in to see if she was all right.

There is independence and plain pig headedness.

Secret Agent Woman said...

People want autonomy. I can see being reluctant to give that up.

I wish my own mother would be a little MORE secretive about all her woes!

kylie said...

One day she will fall and do herself an injury that precludes going home and then the bullet will need to be bitten. In the mean time, all you can do is check on her regularly so she doesn't become one of those people who falls and lies alone and freezing for days.

i agree that she is probably frightened, not of interference but of dependence and possibly of death

Nick said...

Helen: Fortunately with my mum it's just a case of not telling anyone what's happening. She hasn't yet acquired a bedside cosh or taken to locking herself in. But there's no chance of us trying to put her in a care home against her wishes. In fact such a move was suggested to her by someone a few months ago and my brother in law, my sister and myself were all of the opinion she was fine where she was and didn't need to move.

Nick said...

Agent: Oh dear, your mother sounds like the other end of the scale!

Kylie: Hard to check on her regularly as she lives so far away and won't answer the phone. But she has carers twice a day and she has several alarm cords, so she shouldn't have to wait long for help if she needs it. Yes, I expect she's unhappy at the thought of becoming more dependent on others.

Bijoux said...

I've found that people tend to get more extreme as they age when it comes to things like stubbornness, or the other side of the coin, the need for attention. Watching your parents age is distressing, especially when there is a concern for safety.

Nick said...

Bijoux: I think you're right that certain tendencies become more entrenched (takes worried look at own self). Watching my mother age and getting more frail is indeed distressing (my father died in 1988). She's very conscious of her physical safety and won't go out in snow or heavy winds. But nevertheless accidents will happen.

Wisewebwoman said...

What was your opinion about her physical well-being the last time you saw her? F2F is so much better than 3rd party assessments. She sounds in wonderful mental fettle.Good for her. And if she crashes and falls and dies she's gone out the way she wanted to. 😌 Like my great-gran.

How blessed you are she's alive and kicking.

XO
WWW

Nick said...

www: She seemed fit and healthy enough when I last saw her, so I don't really know why she keeps having falls. But as you say, if she has a fatal fall, she's gone out on her own terms.

CheerfulMonk said...

If she has people coming in regularly to check on her there's no sense in worrying. At least she's not depressed and has given up on life. More power to her, I say!

Nick said...

Jean: Maybe you're right, I shouldn't worry. But I can't help wondering if there's something that can be done to stop her having so many falls.

Rummuser said...

What can you do if she does not want to live with you? Assuming of course that you would like her to.

Nick said...

Ramana: She doesn't want to live with us, and we wouldn't want her to anyway, we're very different and it would all end in tears! In any case, we're both out a lot, so there'd still be long periods when there'd be no one to help if she fell or had an accident. I think she's better off where she is.

Liz Hinds said...

That is frustrating for you. From what you've said of your childhood I know your father was distant; has your mother always been like this?

Jenny Woolf said...

Yes, such a worry. I think that many very old people come to terms with the fact that something is going to carry them off fairly soon and they might as well live their life the way they want, as long as possible, without others trying to organise them. Independence is one of the things that makes life worth living, they like their home the way it is, they have their life to suit them as much as it possibly can now given their age and infirmity. There is nothing they can do to change their situation, so they might as well ignore everyone who gets worried about it. When you are reaching the end, why care if you are found quickly if you fall? It probably only means you'd have to spend ages in hospital and then find you have to go in a home. That is probably the way I would think about it, anyway, so perhaps something like this is going through your mum's mind.

Nick said...

Liz: She has. Friendly enough but always holding things back, so I never quite know what's going on in her mind.

Jenny: That could very well be how she's thinking. She might just see me and my brother in law as interfering in her life and messing her about. Given her frailty, she's probably desperately clinging on to a sense of independence as long as she can. It's sad and upsetting that she has to struggle like this in her last few years.

joared said...

Key is sound mind. If no dementia diagnosed then she's making choices and taking risks she's willing to take, apparently. Does seem like poor judgement if she's had explained to her how you can best help her remain living independently if she keeps you apprised of situation -- not just after the fact as you describe. Friend here in U.S. finally told her 90+ parent if Soc. Serv. came in, they'd be concerned and would hold the children responsible. Was only partially effective. Ultimately parent went to Asst. Living -- a few months later had a massive stroke. Sometimes none of the choices we have are ones we want. Challenging situation for you.

Nick said...

Joared: This is it, if she's of sound mind (which she is), it's entirely up to her how she lives her life and others aren't entitled to interfere. But as you say, if the rest of the family don't hear of any crisis until after it's happened, it's impossible for us to give help when it's genuinely needed.

Hattie said...

Has she been evaluated by a gerontologist?