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My mum’s self-isolating and I’m worried about her state of mind

self isolating elderly and vulnerable

Dear Lesley

I can’t stop worrying about my mum during this lockdown. She’s 85 so she needs to stay at home, and people locally have been great at getting her bits of shopping and her meds and leaving them at her door. The trouble is, she’s not used to being on her own all day, and when I call her she does sound down. She used to get out to clubs and the community centre and that’s all stopped. I try to encourage her to go for a walk each day or down to the shops just to get out, but she’s scared people will stop her and tell her she should be at home. She tells me she’s fine, but I can’t visit so I can’t be sure. I feel so helpless.

You are not alone. Many of us are concerned about elderly relatives and friends on top of all our other worries about the coronavirus. And because you can’t visit, you aren’t able to keep an eye on what’s going on with your mum or make sure she’s OK as you would normally, and that’s making you feel helpless. But there are some things you could try to improve the situation.

Your mum tells you she’s fine, despite the restrictions. It’s possible that she is more resilient than you think, or just making the best of a bad situation. Or your hunch may be right and perhaps she’s putting on a brave face for you or doesn’t realise herself that’s she’s becoming depressed.

So how could you find out more? Perhaps try to probe a bit when you phone. Talk to her about your own worries or those of your friends and all the things you’re missing. Tell her you’re concerned about her and see if she will open up. You mentioned local people have been dropping off shopping. Do you know those people? Could they stop for a chat with your mum (from a distance) and report back how she is getting on?

You could also try phoning more often and planning in advance how to provide stimulus for your mum, for example by talking about your shared memories or doing a crossword puzzle together. You could also send postcards, cartoons or flowers by post.

Perhaps she might need some support in finding things to do. If your mum is on the ‘shielded’ or ‘clinically very vulnerable’ list then she will have been advised to stay at home and avoid contact with other people, except those who are providing essential care. People who are over 70 and in reasonable health – I assume like your mum – are considered ‘clinically vulnerable’. They should ‘minimise contact with others outside of their household’. There has been some confusion about this but it does seem she would be fine to go out for a walk as long as she keeps her distance from other people. I’m sure the walk and fresh air, as you suggested, would be good for her spirits and you could encourage her to ignore anyone who expresses an unwanted opinion.

If you live near enough, you might also consider visiting your mum and talking to her ‘over the garden gate’, although this could be stressful for both of you, especially if she has any hearing problems. If restrictions ease over the next few weeks and you are able to go inside the house, would it be possible for you to show her how to use an iPad so that she could see familiar faces on a Zoom or Skype call? Some older people aren’t able to use technology at all but others have learned the basics quite quickly once they see the advantages.

Can you encourage your mum to do other things you know that she likes – maybe gardening, jigsaw puzzles, cooking? Can you mobilise her friends, family and community to phone on a regular basis to check how she is, or just for a chat? If you think she would appreciate a daily call from someone different, there is now an ‘army of volunteers’ available to make calls to older people.

Age UK provides a similar service. Or if she is normally quite chatty herself, she could volunteer to be a befriender herself.

This is a difficult time for both you and your mum. But, as Prince Charles said recently: ’None of us can say when this will end, but end it will. Until it does, let us all try and live with hope and, with faith in ourselves and each other, look forward to better times to come.’

Lesley

Dr Lesley Trenner is an eldercare coach with extensive qualifications and experience in life coaching. Lesley provides one-to-one help for people who are struggling to cope with the ’emotional rollercoaster’ of eldercare or balance caring responsibilities with a  busy career. Sessions are available face-to-face (London) or on the phone. Email Lesley or call 07919 880 250 for a free introductory chat. You can also visit her Facebook page.

Photo by Dương Nhân from Pexels

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