I’m worried about my mum. She’s in her early 80s, has mobility problems and seems depressed. Every phone call with her usually ends with her sobbing or getting angry. She doesn’t like her GP and isn’t in touch with them much. I think her health and mobility could be improved with treatment, but she says there’s no point bothering anyone.
She gets angry a lot and bickers at my stepdad, who seems quite long-suffering. When I visit, she usually gets upset when I leave and then cries. She seems lonely, but not keen to reach out to her friends – she appears to feel that people should always call her, not that she should call them. She doesn’t have any hobbies and is frustrated by her lack of mobility. When I try to suggest things she could do, she says it’s all “pointless”.
We have never been that close. My sister was always Mum’s favourite, but she lives abroad and isn’t in touch that much, so I feel as if I have the main responsibility. But I’m really not sure how to help.
How hard for you, especially if you suspect you’ve never been the favourite and yet now feel the burden has fallen to you. If you haven’t already, might it be worth asking your sister to share some of it, at least emotionally? What are her thoughts on the situation?
I don’t know if your mum’s behaviour is new, or typical of how she’s always been. I had a chat with both Age UK and Jane Hetherington (psychotherapy.org.uk). Hetherington wondered if the issues were lockdown-related – ie might things improve? She suggested a good first step “would be to sit down with your mum, stepdad and hopefully your sister on a video call to try to find out what’s going on, what’s needed and how you might be able to help.”
Hetherington thought your mum sounded depressed and despondent – of course we can’t diagnose from your letter – but also thought that her anger/irritability “sounded like a sign of anxiety”. Hetherington explained that anxiety often manifests as an “aggressive response or irritability”.
The first port of call is her GP, to get her checked over and see what’s available to help her, both physically – with occupational therapy/physio – and emotionally. I note you say she doesn’t like her GP, but she doesn’t have to go on a date with them, just visit. Is there someone else at the surgery she could see?
Both my specialists this week pointed out that your mum could also benefit from behavioural family talking therapy. Waiting lists are long but it’s worth getting your mum into the system while she gets used to the idea. Age UK said you can self-refer (put IAPT – Improving Access to Psychological Therapies – plus your mum’s area into Google). For this, your mother doesn’t even need to go to her GP. You could also get social services to do a care assessment if your mother will agree to it. Remember that the Age UK website has lots of useful information and its helpline is a great source of support: 0800 055 6112. You can also email via the website.
It’s annoying your mum won’t contact people, but again, is this a new thing or has it always been thus? I know some older people feel that others should get in contact with them and not vice versa, but sometimes this is to mask a vulnerability. Is your mum struggling to dial numbers or hear on the phone? (Might a hearing test be in order?) A great landline corded phone for older users is the Geemarc Photophone 100, which not only offers amplification but has eight big speed touch buttons which you can customise with people’s photos or names. It won’t solve the whole problem if she resolutely won’t call people, but it might help your mum feel able to call people. You might also want to look at the Komp, which is brilliant at helping families stay in touch if elderly relatives don’t use or like smartphones or tablets.
Going forward, and for your own sanity and wellbeing, be mindful of parachuting in to help when it’s not needed or wanted, however well-meaning. Of course it can’t be much fun for your mother getting older, feeling infirm and less mobile. But these things are not your fault. It is frustrating if your mum seems not to want to help herself, but perhaps, if her mood could lift, she would feel more proactive.
Every week Annalisa Barbieri addresses a family related problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa on a family matter, please send your problem to firstname.lastname@example.org. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions: see gu.com/letters-terms.
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