My mother is 87 and has lived on her own for the past 16 years

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Dear Patricia Marie,

I've been worrying about this for a while, but feel that the time has finally come to address it. My mother is 87 and has lived on her own for the past 16 years since her husband (my father) died. She has always been very independent but is now struggling to cope with day to day tasks. I feel that deep down she knows this, but is very stubborn and refuses to acknowledge it. I don't like her being alone in case something happens.

I don't know what to do. How do people deal with this? I don't want to force my mother into something she doesn't want but I can't see how she can live safely and comfortably on her own. 

Please help.

Patricia Marie says...

Many older people see themselves as proud survivors, who, despite declining health, can deal with whatever life throws at them. The wartime generation value their independence, often digging their heels in if they feel bullied in any way. Uncertainty and fear of change can cause them much distress, as they desperately try to stay in control of themselves and their environment. However, there comes a time when decisions need to be made on the best options of ensuring them independence but keeping them safe and happy too. 

 Your mother is extremely blessed to have such a caring daughter, but put yourself in her shoes and imagine your children writing a similar letter about you. Before pushing her to accept that she is becoming more vulnerable, and that she needs help to sort out her living arrangements, try to understand her feelings. Have a heart to heart with her, listen with empathy, and reassure her by involving her with any subsequent decisions. You could perhaps also enlist a family friend, her GP, or local vicar, to talk to her and reinforce your concerns. 

 Social Services have a duty to provide care, and if you contact them they could put a suitable care package together. Your mother's house could be adapted to suit her needs, and it may be that with a little assistance, and a personal alarm, she will be able to continue to live at home. A carer could become a regular companion as well as a huge form of support to her. Day centres are also available for senior citizens, providing an abundance of amenities and activities that she may enjoy, alongside making some new friends with similar needs to hers. Alternatively, offer to visit some local sheltered living centres and care homes with her. She may be impressed to see how different they can be to the stereotypical ‘Old People’s Home’ of days gone by.  

 If your mother could be more accepting of the situation, and the positive changes that need to be made, her later years could become highly pleasurable and fulfilling, with the additional benefit of hopefully enjoying unfettered time with you. For additional help and support, I recommend Age UK, an organisation dedicated to assisting the elderly and their family members. 

 Age UK: 0800 169 2081

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