How to raise a tricky subject……

I’m feeling really down today after a terrible Christmas spent dealing with my MILs constant “health issues.”
She is 96 this year and spends all of her time ruminating on her health, I light heartedly say she must be fit to have reached 95, but this annoys her.
I know being old is no picnic, but she has a cleaner, gardener, we do her medication, take her to health appointments, cook five meals a week for her, do the shopping, washing and feel like we are generally always “on call.” We take her to the hairdresser and she spends Sunday with us every week- I think she has it pretty good.
On a very serious note, my stress levels are dreadful and I feel a sense of panic when the phone rings - I don’t think I can take on one more thing.
I wouldn’t mind if she recognised what we do for her, but she seems to want more and more.
This week we have been around to her five times and it’s only Tuesday, her cooker wouldn’t work, her phone was broken, her heating wouldn’t come on and she needed her shopping this morning rather than wait for it until we could drop it round to her when we take her dinner to her later this evening.
My brother is currently extremely unwell, not sure he will come through it ( extreme complications of diabetes) and when I told her , she said, “ I know, I’ve got an ache in my eye!”
She’s just called again to go and get her an eye patch.
I think it is reaching the stage where she needs or wants more than we can continue to give.
We have had no holidays in the past eight years and the two occasions where we spent an overnight away, she was ill. She seems to not want us to go anywhere, including seeing our only grandson, she’s says they need to come to us at “ our age”, we’re 68 and 63.
She forgets that up to her mid eighties, she was having two or three holidays a year, stayed with friends and was constantly shopping! Yet, she tells us to stay in because it’s cold!
My life is now very small and I am struggling with not being able to have the freedom to come and go as we please.
She has carers once a day at lunchtime ( she started ringing me saying she had eaten or had a drink so I would go around and do it for her) so I did insist on the carers, although she says she doesn’t need them!
She is financially comfortable, we have POA so there are no issues on that front.
However, the crux of this post is both my husband and myself actually need a holiday and to go out more. We know she will be annoyed at this and play up.
We also feel that she is genuinely finding it hard despite all the help she has.
Her memory is on the decline, she cannot learn anything new, and gets things very mixed up but will blame others. She probably needs a care home environment, but how on earth does one raise this with a person who is very set in her ways and clearly expects her son and me to do their duty.
(When she was my age she put her own mother in law in respite and never took her back , apparently her own mum in law gave her “ bad nerves!)
On a serious note, what do we do?
Advice and ideas very welcome,
Thank you in advance.

I should that very recently I have been diagnosed with a heart condition and told to lower my stress levels and my other half has very high blood pressure and an aortic aneurysm.
I’m worried that we won’t last much longer!!

Perhaps try broaching it tactfully. Find a social worker who can speak to you about care options and then conduct a care needs assessment. There are some good ones out there. As always make a few brief summary notes. Ensure that you read a copy of the entire assessment report. You need to have me time desperately. We all do in order to survive.

You have to stop making yourself so available. I had counselling to help me in a similar situation. You are no spring chicken and if you don’t ease up, you and your husband will be in deep trouble.
Start by booking a holiday. Turn on your answerphone.
Go out for the day, Sadly, after a period when we were looking after all 4 disabled and elderly parents and our brain damaged son, my lovely husband died in his sleep at the age of 58 from a massive heart attack. Fight for a life of your own. Don’t end up widowed like me.

Thanks for taking the time to read and respond, it is appreciated.
It’s so difficult when someone is 95, to not be available, but I really need to put in boundaries whereby we don’t end up doing more.
We took her dinner around tonight , along with requested eye patch!
She wolfed the dinner down, said the eye patch wasn’t any good, had a cuppa and three chocolate biscuits. We stayed for about an hour and a half, but when we leave she just puts her head in her hands. It’s quite manipulative really and it is difficult to say a cheery “see you tomorrow.” It’s how she is now all the time.
There is so much pressure to care diligently for our loved ones ( usually from those who haven’t done it) but no one acknowledges the stress it causes and the toll it takes. A part of me feels that she has had her life and yet I feel that it’s expected that the “young old” sacrifice what life they have to extend hers.
Every appointment she attends ends up with more tasks for us, no one ever asks us what we are already doing.
I’m sure I’ll feel better at some point, but at the moment I’m resentful and feeling put upon.
Thanks for letting me rant!

Hi Jane, difficult though it, that’s exactly right.

I’d tell her about your diagnosis and say the consultant is insisting you do less and use this as leverage to increase her care visits to two a day.

When she rings up re needing an eye patch or a problem with the TV etc just say you or the paid carers will bring one/ sort it out on the next time you are / they are due a visit.

Re the holiday, you are just going to have to be firm. Ideally, she’d go into a care home for respite care whilst you are away and :crossed_fingers:will decide she likes it. If she point blank refuses she’ll need three or four care visits a day.

I appreciate this is easier to type than to action, but it sounds like you are at the point where you can no longer ignore how caring is impacting on your health.

1 Like

Go on vacation. Ask for a care needs assessment in order to proceed.

Firstly, I agree with Melly. tell her what your consultant says.You may have to repeat it a few times before she “gets” it. You may have to get more support for her to give you more time off.

Secondly, it must be absolutely horrible to know you are close to the end of your life and there is nothing you can do about it. My Mum was nearly 97 when she died and, compared to some, was no trouble to look after until her dementia worsened then she was anxious, sometimes very low, obsessed with going to the toilet, weepy etc. She knew she was on the decline but dealt with it pretty well and just used to say “how did I ever end up like this?” And that always brought a lump to my throat because what can you reply?


You are a very compassionate person. Its understandable that you don’t want your MIL to be upset. But you need to realise that being upset is not going to harm her. If her condition is stable and she her primary needs are being met, then its perfectly fine for you to skip seeing her for a day. She is on her own and probably lonely, but that is something we all have to learn to be comfortable with. She needs to get used to being alone at least some of the time.

You are not responsible for her circumstances. I know you feel like you are and I am saying this to myself as much as I am saying it to you! But she will be fine if she doesn’t get exactly what she wants right away. People will continue to treat you the way you allow you them to. If you don’t change the dynamic, you will remain stuck in this cycle.

I feel very guilty every day too. I feel as though my partner is at my mercy and if I don’t help him with something, he just won’t have/do it. That’s a lot of pressure. But you have to think about the longterm. This situation isn’t sustainable and if you and your husband get sick, then you won’t be able to support her at all.

Maybe agree to see her on Monday and Thursdays only to start with. Those will be the days she gets groceries and any requests. It is also worth getting things delivered to her house instead of going round yourself.

Speak to your local adult social care team about coffee mornings she could attend. She may not want to leave the house, but again, if she isn’t willing to make an effort to improve her quality of life, then her current situation will just have to be good enough.

Its okay to take care of yourself and your own mental health. You don’t need permission from anyone else. And if anyone tries to criticise you, then simply tell that person that they can disrupt their life to help your MIL, if they are that concerned. There are resources available. It may be a case of increading the number of visits her carer does or indeed, looking into a care home.

She won’t be happy about it, but no one would be. She needs to accept that this is where she is in her life. Reassure her that she isn’t going to be alone and you will be there for her, but she does need to start taking your welbeing into consideration as well. She is scared. But that fear will never go away if she and you continue to pretend that her life and health haven’t changed.

You are doing an amazing job caring for your MIL. But it’s time to put some of that effort into your own life. Speak to her care team first about updating her needs assessment and simply let her know what the new arrangements will be. She can protest, but ultimately the decision to care for her or not is yours, not hers.

1 Like

Thank you all for your replies, it helps to feel heard in a safe space.
Penny, your response really hit a nerve with me as it touched on my feelings of guilt, I don’t know why I have these but they are very real.
My mother in law does actively try and play on these feelings but she has done this since I first knew her when she would “faint” ( always on the a sofa or bed!) if her son ( my husband) wanted to go out and she didn’t want him to. Subsequently, he is left less sympathetic than me given he has experienced this all of his life.
However, both of us acknowledge that being 95 is difficult for anyone. She will not go to the club she used to go to as I believe she recognises that she is not the person she was, they used to call her “ the duchess “ as she was quite a strong “showy” type of person, but she is a shadow of that now, but still knows what she wants and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She has a sharp tongue that I have learned to ignore…… I just change the subject.
But, health wise I do recognise some thing needs to change for us as we are both feeling quite low at the moment and know that the feeling of constantly being on edge ( you never know what mood she will be in or if we will have cancel plans) is taking its toll.
Your comments about nothing changing unless we do is certainly something to think about.
Easier said than done, but will definitely think on it.
Thanks to you all .

Penny, your response was appreciated.
But Ashley, I meant to highlight how helpful yours was ( I mistakenly referred to you as Penny!!)
Are your words based on experience?

I really feel your pain here! Me and my wife are the same age as you and in the same situation. FiL is 97 and needs all sorts of care but also he still does quite a lot for himself. Or at least he tries to. We get to clear up the mess, deal with the accidents and take hime to A&E when it all goes wrong.

He’s completely self-centred and cannot see the impact he has on us. He refuses to take advice from the doctors and carers, never mind us. He never takes responsibility for things that are his fault or problem. He acts as though all his problems are being done to him by someone else. The other day I found he’d broken the back off his kitchen chair (again!) so I asked him what happened (suspecting a fall)? “Oh,” he says, “it fell over.” Of course it didn’t. He knocked it over but couldn’t admit it. It’s the same with everything; the telly ‘doesn’t work’ - no, you’ve forgotten how to turn it on; the arial has ‘fallen off’ the radio - no, you broke it off and so on!

We have finally got carers in every day except weekends but they can only do half an hour. The rest is up to us.

He’s recently become completely incontinent and as he has mobility issues often cannot get to the toilet. We’ve had a seven week battle with him to get him to wear incontinence pants. It’s been awful. He just won’t accept he needs them but is quite happy for us to clear up the after effects when it goes wrong.

Despite being very understanding and explaining things patiently and at length (by us and a health visitor), he still refused to wear them. Eventually we had enough last week. We told him it was up to him to deal with it. He can still change his own bedlinen and put wet things in the washer/dryer, even though it takes him a long time and saps his energy. After 4 days and a whole large box of washing powder he was exhausted and started wearing them.

The point is, you have to draw a line somewhere and stick to it. I had a long, tough talk with him about what we can and can’t do and what we are and aren’t prepared to do. If he wasn’t going to meet us half way by doing the sensible thing then he was on his own. We didn’t abandon him, we just said he had to deal with the after effects of not wearing the pants. It worked.

As for feeling guilty, I get that but I have to say I have now stopped. It’s a shame because I used to care about him a lot and respected him over the 40 years I’ve known him, but a large part of that has gone now. Interestingly, it was my wife (his daughter) who felt that way first.

It’s very sad to reach this stage but he has ‘capacity’ to make his own choices. He’s had an amazing life and lucky to a) still be alive, b) be still living in his own home and c) have family members to care for him. He doesn’t see that, though. He’s angry his legs don’t work any more and he’s going blind and deaf and has to wear ‘nappies’. He will not face up to his situation or make peace with himself. I fear for what his life will become and genuinely hope he passes away in his sleep before he becomes bedridden, blind, incontinent and dies bitter, angry and confused.

Nothing any of us can do about that if he doesn’t want to deal with it himself so no point feeling guilty. It’s not your fault.

Thanks Peter, it’s helpful to hear other’s experiences. Luckily, we have not had to deal with incontinence issues, but my MIL is obsessed with “ being regular “ and we have had to tell her to stop drinking large amounts of lactulose. We have been to A&E twice because of that. She insists on going even though we tell her what’s happened.
I think the point that resonated with me most was the fact that your FIL has no appreciation of how lucky he is in terms of living to the age he has, having his own home and family that do so much for him.
It seems to me that however much we do, MIL is never really that happy or indeed, grateful. There will always be something she wants or something we didn’t do quite right. I have to let that go or I’d go :angry: mad!
I do wonder whether the loss of the ability to do certain things is linked to dementia kicking in.
Just as you describe, she forgets how to work the phone, tv, cooker and loses things which must be somewhere in the house. However, if I dare mention her memory, she gets very angry and always has an excuse. She might be aware herself and just be defensive.
She is now on a round of eye drops which involves me having to go four times a day ( the last being at around 10 pm), but whilst annoying that the hospital have again assumed that all I have to do is care for MIL, who else could do this?
She is accepting of the carers at around lunchtime, but thinks she doesn’t need them, but she’ll have them because “ we have told her to”!!!
Sometimes I’m more positive and think I can cope, but it’s the uncertainty of what each day will bring ( eg: will she be ill or not, happy or miserable, annoyed with us for some imagined issue) that really impacts on my anxiety levels.
We can’t plan for anything and it feels like we spend our life “waiting “ and being on call.
We’re hoping to see our only grandchild on Friday and dare not tell before Thursday evening for fear of her coming up with something that will stop us.
Obviously, I’ll still be doing the drops early morning, tea time and bed time - she will have to miss one dose, but luckily they’re not a treatment as such, just a mild lubricant. Even with these, she insists on the 4 times a day, even though the doctor said it wouldn’t matter if she missed them out for a day or just had them once……
Anyway, I always feel like “downer” when I know many people on this forum have things so much harder than I do. However, I suppose everyone is different, as are people’s stress levels,
I just didn’t expect to be doing this at my age…
I just feel sad…….

Jane, talk to your pharmacist and see if there are different eye drops that do the same job, less times a day. Don’t keep putting things off. My husband died at the age of 58,so many dreams never fulfilled.

1 Like

I know you are right.
Having posted on the forum previously, (similar issues) I have seen many of your responses that make such good sense and your own experience illustrates the importance of changing my behaviour before it’s too late.
But it is hard……I know I need to put in boundaries and shed the guilt.
We do actually do a lot and need to recognise that.
As Peter said previously, MIL has capacity, is strong minded and can take some responsibility for her behaviour and choices.

I probably need to as well.