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How to cope with elderly relative who needs help but won't accept it?

My MIL is 84 and was diagnosed with cancer last year (both lung and thyroid). She had major surgery to remove part of her lung and has had a lot of pain and problems since. I'm with her regularly and she always says she's in pain.

She's been prescribed morphine since the surgery and the nurses who used to visit have told her she will probably always need them. But she simply refuses to take them regularly. When I ask why, it seems she's terrified of getting addicted to them. We've tried repeatedly to reassure her that people taking morphine for pain is not like being a drug addict. But it has made no difference.

It's absolutely heartbreaking to see her crying because she is so fed up with it. She also has severe weakness all over and describes pain in her bones, but she won't tell her doctor. When we press her as to why, she changes the subject and becomes very defensive.

She has very bad cataracts and can't read or see the TV properly which is severely affecting her quality of life. She talks about how badly this has affected her. The optician has said she only has 40% vision left. She has been on the waiting list for surgery to remove the cataracts for about 4 years now so it's looking likely that she will never get the surgery (despite repeated GP urgent referrals and opticians letters). She could easily afford the surgery privately but when I suggest it, she laughs it off as ridiculous.

There are various other issues e.g. she won't heat the house to an appropriate temperature. She sits wrapped up with blankets around her shoulders on the sofa. It's cold even to me, but she just insists it's fine.

None of this is due to lack of money. Nor does she have any dementia/mental health issues.

How to I deal with this? It's so hard to see her cry about it but then refuse any help at all. I constantly repeat myself offering help with all the issues, suggesting she takes her medication at the dosage prescribed, tells her doctor about the pain, keeps the heat on etc.

She ignores all my advice but keeps complaining, so I thought she must just want someone to listen to her. But that hasn't worked either.

Does anyone have any other ideas on what I can do to help? I'm at my wits end! Where am I going wrong? I'm obviously not doing much good.


  • Money_saving_maniac
    It could be partly habit and partly fear of death. People who have saved all their lives find it hard to stop.

    If she won't talk to you or her children the only tack that you might not have tried is to point out that if she is in pain and cold all the time, that her body will wear out quicker and she is shortening her life.
  • Savvy_Sue
    Savvy_Sue Posts: 46,143 Forumite
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    ripplyuk wrote: »
    Does anyone have any other ideas on what I can do to help? I'm at my wits end! Where am I going wrong? I'm obviously not doing much good.
    You're not necessarily doing anything wrong, but some people just won't be helped. And it's not clear if your spouse is still on the scene: they may confirm that MIL has always been like this.

    What you can do (or probably better spouse) is contact the GP yourselves, and the visiting nurses, and say "I know you cannot talk to me about MIL's care, but I wanted to make you aware that ..." I would also flag up the other issues indicating lack of self-care. Because there may be an element of either dementia or mental health issues.

    it is possible that if an authority figure (GP or nurse) says "this is the dose, you must take it x times a day" that she will listen. Or that they can describe it in some way which does not make her reject it.

    The other response is the cracked record technique: "Yes MIL I know you are in pain but you have declined to take your medication so I am unable to help with this. Now, isn't it a lovely sunny day, shall we have our coffee in the garden?" "Yes MIL I know you find it frustrating that you cannot read or watch TV, but as you do not wish to consider having them treated privately I am unable to help with this. Now, is there anything I can help with or shall I leave you to it?" Just change the subject away from the moan, and keep doing so.
    Signature removed for peace of mind
  • -taff
    -taff Posts: 14,610 Forumite
    First Anniversary Name Dropper Photogenic First Post
    Tell her her son/daughter is distressed to see her how she is, has no interest in any savings she has and would rather their mother had a better quality of life so they could enjoy it together instead of seeing her in pain all the time.
    Being able to see her warm and pain free is much more important to them.
    Shampoo? No thanks, I'll have real poo...
  • tacpot12
    tacpot12 Posts: 8,106 Forumite
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    Having power of attorney now won't help with any of the problems you describe, but if you can get her to agree to set up powers of attorney for her finances and health & welfare now it may help in the future.

    I'm afraid I can't offer any better advice than you've already been give.

    Good luck and well done for trying to help.
    The comments I post are my personal opinion. While I try to check everything is correct before posting, I can and do make mistakes, so always try to check official information sources before relying on my posts.
  • Keep_pedalling
    Can't offer any advice myself, but give MacMilllan a call on 0808 808000, they are the experts in this field.
  • ripplyuk
    ripplyuk Posts: 2,891 Forumite
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    I've known her for 14 years and this is typical for her. She does seem to complain a lot but won't take advice/help. My partner says she has always been like this. He has started to back off a bit as he finds it so frustrating. We're both totally exasperated. (btw, partner and I aren't married. I'm just used to saying MIL).

    We've told her repeatedly to use the money for her health, that it's upsetting for us to see her putting up with all this, and that her family would rather see her comfortable now than get any inheritance. She has enough money to do both if she wants, so that can't be the reason. She does spend plenty on other things.

    I'll talk to my partner about him speaking to her doctor. The problem is that when the doctor asks her about her pain, she says she's fine and even told them she doesn't need the painkillers much. She puts on a brave face for every health professional and is naturally very reserved and guarded, even with her own family. She wouldn't open up to the Macmillan nurse who has now quit visiting.

    When she was in tears talking to me a few days ago, she told me she hasn't even mentioned any of this to her own sister, and she looked horrified when I suggested it. She stays with her sister regularly and I assumed they were close.

    I think also it would feel easier for me if she shared out the constant complaining with a few other people. Selfish of me really, but I get upset with it all. Mainly because I just can't understand why someone complains repeatedly when they clearly don't want to change things.

    My partner and I did talk to her about power of attorney last year. She seemed interested but just never gets round to doing it. Every time he has mentioned it since, she keeps saying she'll look into it and never does. In reality, it's never going to happen.
  • Keep_pedalling
    Although she seems to have rejected help from the MacMillan nurse, I would still call them they are there to support and give advice to family and careers as well as patients.
  • -taff
    -taff Posts: 14,610 Forumite
    First Anniversary Name Dropper Photogenic First Post
    If you#ve already tried as suggested above and are getting sick of visiting her and hearing the same things over and over, why not fetch her, take her to yours and spend an afternoon, then take her back and leave her...
    I do understand what it's like to have a relative in chronic pain who seem to not want to help themselves, but they do tend to get bogged down in a rut and struggle to get out of it. And I also understand what it's like when they continuall put a brave face on for doctors.....It's very old school, but it doesn't help them, and they take out their frustrations on the nearest and dearest....
    Shampoo? No thanks, I'll have real poo...
  • kkgree1
    kkgree1 Posts: 328 Forumite
    First Post First Anniversary Combo Breaker
    I have a similar relationship with my MIL who now lives in a care home. I'm very close to her and she naturally confides in me about her pain, gripes (normally about the staff changes or poor food) and how awful her life is. She is not the same around her son and daughter and puts on a brave face for them!

    It became a bit too much for me last year and I organised a local counsellor to visit fortnightly and this has helped a lot. Not for everyone but a neutral person to talk about her life to has proved beneficial. My MIL doesn't want to do anything to help herself but I always try and keep a positive outlook and offer ideas for improvement (do physio, more activities, etc). I think it can get you down otherwise.

    It is worth exploring the power of attorney for her - you can help her complete the forms online or could organise a solicitor to visit and discuss further. I did this last week for my MIL where the solicitor visited the care home and we've sorted a revised Will and both LPAs for her.

    It's not an easy position to be in but keep going and get others family members to help when needed.
    Mortgage free wannabe
    Mortgage (November 2010) £135,850
    Mortgage (November 2020) £4,784
  • pmlindyloo
    pmlindyloo Posts: 13,052 Forumite
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    Personally I would be talking to her sister if they visit regularly - a problem shared and all that. Perhaps she can get to the bottom of why she isn't taking her medication/having the eye surgery.

    I always felt with my mum (who was very similar - moaning but never taking advice) that I was treading on egg shells when I said anything/suggested anything - always aware that she was old and should be forgiven for moaning all the time and having different ideas to me - different generation type thing.

    But I came to the conclusion that sometimes I had to treat her a bit like a child and get cross. Usually, she came round after a think about it.
    You may not feel able to do this - hence the contacting the sister suggestion. She may be able to 'chivvy her' into doing things.

    Good luck - I know how wearing it is but in the end you just need to accept that you are doing all you can. Some people just cannot be helped.
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