Dear Thelma: I'm exhausted and frustrated with my grandma


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Dear Thelma,

It's been a while since my last letter. I've been managing OK lately and even attending therapy sessions on campus. However, a new issue has arisen concerning my grandmother from my dad's side, and I feel compelled to address it.

Recently, my dad informed me that my grandmother's condition has improved since she began taking her medication. So, I agreed to have her stay with us. However, it has turned out to be a nightmare. I think it's best she moves to a care home where she can be better looked after.

I tried my best to tolerate my grandmother but, after a few days, I couldn't help but feel distressed over my grandmother's behaviour. Her ramblings and unpredictable actions have become overwhelming, and I've even experienced moments of despair where I've considered drastic measures. I know it sounds irrational, but the stress has been consuming.

I've tried to overlook her nonsensical chatter and gently confront her about her behaviour, but she responds defensively, accusing me of ingratitude. This only adds to my frustration, especially when I see the toll it's taking on my dad, who seems weary from caring for her. I fear his patience is wearing thin, and I don't want to see him suffer any longer. I know that he can't continue like this.

Part of me feels it's time to discuss the possibility of alternative care arrangements with my aunts, considering a nursing home or assisted living facility, for everyone's good. I never wanted to argue with my grandmother in the first place but, because of her presence, our family dynamics have shifted. However, I'm scared to broach this topic with my dad, as he has previously dismissed or ignored my concerns.

As I near the completion of my degree and prepare to enter the workforce, I'm increasingly aware of the impact this situation is having on both my father and myself. I don't want our relationship to suffer because of this.

Thelma, I don't know what to do. Please help me.

Depressed daughter

Thank you for writing again. I re-read your first letter ("Taking care of grandma is driving me mad", Dear Thelma, Dec 4, 2022) and will add that for context.

Your grandmother is an old lady. I can’t tell if she’s just chatty or if she has a form of dementia and loses track of time. She also has hearing problems. This can be isolating, and is linked to increased chance of poor mental health.

Your parents want grandma to live with them. They arranged for your father to be his mum’s main caregiver. Your father’s brothers and sisters work but are also supportive.

You say you are at the end of your patience, but I am confused because you also say this is after a few days. Maybe you were at college and are now home?

Whatever is going on, taking care of the elderly is a challenging task. In the past, homes and families were larger, so care was a shared burden. Overseas nurses and part-time helpers could be sourced too. These options are increasingly difficult to find and expensive.

Today, many younger old folks sleep at a family home, and visit daycare centres where they can chat with others, play games, and take part in age-appropriate exercise.

In extreme old age where incontinence, dementia, and other illnesses require careful and constant care, nursing homes with medical staff can be an option.

However, it can feel as if we are shutting away our loved ones because they’re too much trouble.

Also, elder abuse is not unknown. This is why families hesitate to use services.

Sensible advice is available from the Alzheimer's Disease Foundation Malaysia (tel: 03-7956 2008). Readers might also google Taylor's University's Dr Cecilia Chan’s "Reimagining Dementia" roadshows.

The bottom line is that your parents decided they want to care for grandma in their home. You say your dad is tired but he dismisses this. He is an adult, so you should respect his opinion.

You may suggest regular family meetings to make sure care arrangements are optimal. However, it is your parents’ home and their choice.

So here’s a thought: Considering you have been consistent in not wanting to live with this elderly lady, you can graduate, find a job, earn a living, and move in with flatmates.

The family dynamics are off because you are unhappy. There is friction between you and your father because you have different values. So become independent and then you can both live how you like.

Your family sounds traditional, so moving out may not have occurred to you. Given both your parents sound very loving, and you are their child, estrangement is unlikely. Of course it won’t be easy to stand on your own two feet, but it can be done.

While you are at uni and have access to free help, I suggest you talk it through with your therapist so that you are fully prepared.

Good luck and thank you for writing in.

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