Our elderly aunt won’t move into a sheltered home | Family

The question My sister and I love and care deeply for our elderly aunt and are determined that we will care for her with the same level of care that she gave to her own mother. However, we really would feel much better, as I think she would do, too, if she were to spend her last years in a property that met her needs and without the weight of her parents’ possessions around her and her own mountains of old paperwork.

There was a sheltered accommodation flat going near me that would have been perfect, but my aunt, although agreeing it would be good, was resistant to leaving her large, unmodernised, family home. I have offered to help her sort things out, but she gets agitated and upset at the thought, insisting that neither she nor I have the time, and wouldn’t it be nicer if we just went out for lunch instead? We all do go for a lot of nice lunches and love it, but we need to help at a more practical level.

It’s so painful to watch. Our grandmother fell down the stairs in that house and died, and it seems to me that her last act of obedience to her controlling mother is to follow her down those very steps. I don’t think it’s conscious.

She hasn’t done anything in the 20 years since Granny died except potter about and is stubborn about not allowing us to do things for her. She likes to be the one who treats us. It seems to us that the time window for her “sorting out her stuff” and moving somewhere that doesn’t have a large garden or only one lavatory at the top of some steep stairs, is vanishing. We would love for her to spend her final years in peace, knowing that everything is taken care of.

Philippa’s answer You can see clearly how your aunt’s life could be improved and made safer and yet, although she knows you are loving and sensible, she is not budging and she doesn’t really seem to be able to articulate why, except she keeps saying, she “hasn’t got time”, even though she just potters all day long.

Manson’s Law of Avoidance: the more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it. Manson’s Law applies even if that change to our identity would benefit us, as your aunt would benefit if she moved from her large, impractical house to a flat near you, and yet it is still too unbearable to contemplate. This is deep stuff and she doesn’t want to open that box, so she prefers to say she hasn’t got time. And maybe she hasn’t. As you say in your longer letter to me, she is getting sleepier. She is drifting away at times and her forgetfulness has increased. Yes, she may well follow her mother down those stairs and, yes, it could be avoided, but if she feels she needs to cling to her sense of who she is by being the one who treats rather than the one who is helped, plus she feels she is part of that house, part of all that stuff, this will be what is holding her back.

You could say, “Please, for my sake, let us clear the house and put you all on one floor so you’ll be safer.” She only has the present and the past now. She doesn’t want to think about the future, so clearly she thinks it would be nicer to have a lovely lunch. So get her out for as many nice lunches as you can. These are what really matter to her, bringing her, and you, joy.

You and your sister know that independent sheltered accommodation would make you all happier and be the best option, but it seems it is too big a leap for her to take. And yet, if she carries on putting off changing her circumstances, everything will change suddenly when a crisis happens. Ideally, you want to put measures in place so that the crisis never happens at all. Moving seems overwhelming to her, so maybe minimal adaptations to make her current home more suitable may help. Perhaps a new loo so she doesn’t have to climb those steep steps. Or even a commode and a daily home help. You could try to convince her that getting the right support in place would help her maintain her independence at home for longer and prevent the need for a nursing home later and could avert a crisis. But she may not want to hear it.

I expect she has a covert belief that if she moved from that house, or even accepted more help, she would no longer be herself. Until she makes that leap of faith, she won’t realise that, of course, she’d still be herself, probably be even more herself than she is now. But she may never accept this.

What this can teach us is that when our time comes, we should take on board the advice of the younger generation. Accepting change is one of the hardest things, and I really don’t think your aunt is up to it. Accepting that others cannot accept change may be even harder.

Every week Philippa Perry addresses a personal problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Philippa, please send your problem to [email protected]. Philippa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions.

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