People with ageing parents must talk

It’s important for people caring for elderly to talk

How it started

Ruth* was approaching 50, but since childhood had always been very close to her mother, Norma*

They had many interests in common and the same sort of attitude to life

Ruth was born in London where Norma and the rest of the family still lived, but had moved to America some years earlier and was now settled there with her family

At 78, Norma was in good health, but she was becoming increasingly forgetful and anxious and the family had started to worry about her living on her own

A visit to the Memory Clinic confirmed their worse fears – she was diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease

The Emotional Impact

Norma’s children and the older grandchildren found the situation very sad and difficult

Those living nearby also struggled to manage the everyday practicalities. Everyone was aware of how Alzheimer’s gradually steals the sufferer’s personality: the so-called ‘long goodbye’

Ruth found it particularly hard – missing the friendship and support of her mother and living so far away

As Norma slowly deteriorated, Ruth felt angry and cheated. She also felt guilty about not being able to provide more support and terrified that Norma would forget who she was

Ruth started worrying about her own ability to remember things

She found herself less able to concentrate on her job –  which she disliked anyway and found very stressful – but wanted to keep it so as not to lose the pension. She found herself constantly thinking about her mother and unable to relax or enjoy herself

It was hard to get time off work to come and visit Norma. When she did, Ruth would rush around, try and do everything for her mother, and then found it very hard to say goodbye and leave again

It’s important for people caring for elderly with dementia to talk

Ruth knew she needed to talk about how she was feeling, but didn’t want to put more stress on her family and didn’t feel she could be honest with her friends

She hoped that I might be able to help because, as a coach, I have spoken to a lot of people coping with the issues around ‘ageing parents’.  I’ve also been through a similar situation with my own mother and am familiar with how the care system works in the UK

Ruth and I had an initial chat on the phone and she talked about feeling ‘stuck’

I told her how ‘coaching for people with ageing parents’ works and explained that the purpose is to help people untangle complex emotions, solve problems and make decisions

Ruth had 6 sessions with me over about 4 months. At the end of each session she felt calmer and clearer about what she was going to do

During the first session Ruth realised how much she just needed someone to listen. And it suddenly became clear to her that she was over-identifying with her mother and somehow assuming that because Norma had Alzheimer’s she would be bound to get it too. A visit to her doctor confirmed that Ruth’s memory loss was very mild and simply part of her own ageing process

This discovery took away some of the fear and this then allowed Ruth to make some more practical decisions

For example, she

  • Asked her boss for ‘compassionate leave’ which enabled her to visit her mother more often
  • Made sure she was in England to help when Norma moved to a care home so that she could support her siblings and be more involved in this difficult process rather than hearing about it from a distance which would have been even more painful
  • Made a photo album about her mother’s life with simple explanations for each picture. This reminded Ruth of all the good times they had shared and gave her another way to communicate with Norma and stimulate her failing memory

At the final session, I asked Ruth what Norma would have advised her to do, if she had known how things were going to turn out, based on the person Norma had been before Alzheimer’s struck

Ruth thought for a while and then said – my mother often used to say: live your own life, make the most of the present and let the future take care of itself.  With this in mind, Ruth decided to leave the job she hated and find something less stressful. She also signed up for ballroom dancing classes

Ruth knew that she was still in the process of saying the ‘long goodbye’ to her mother and that slowly losing her would continue to feel unfair and painful

But the coaching sessions had helped her to make the most of each visit, to feel less guilty and anxious and to find better ways of dealing with it all

*All coaching sessions are confidential. To preserve anonymity, names have been changed

Lesley Trenner is a ‘Change Coach’ 

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