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Retired parents do nothing and their health is suffering

(35 Posts)
DeltaG Tue 31-Oct-17 12:29:50

My parents, despite being in their 60-70s, are behaving like they are 85 and are driving myself and my sister nuts. We could use some help on how to handle the situation.

For a bit of context, Mum is 67 and Dad recently turned 70. Their health is not brilliant - both have COPD caused by 50+ years of heavy smoking (now stopped). Dad is worse than Mum, but both manage it OK. I am mid-thirties with a 21 month old and 7 months pregnant with DS2. I live in mainland Europe and with my DH. I have a younger sister (33) who is married and lives about 45 mins from my parents.

Parents have never been people for pushing themselves out of their comfort zones and it's always been a battle to get them to do new things. Dh and I visit them 3-4 times a year, but this will reduce when the new baby comes. Getting them out here is a hassle (not logistically, but because of their attitudes to doing anything other than they usually do). Both my sister and I have being trying to encourage them to take up more activities for their own health and sanity but it falls on deaf ears and is becoming increasingly frustrating.

Both DM and DDad have been told by their doctors that they need to keep active but apart from Dad playing bowls, they do nothing. They also do nothing to keep their brains active and spend a lot of time hanging around the house and getting on each others' nerves. Dad drives, Mum doesn't, but they live in a big city so transport isn't an issue.

We are at a loss as to how to get them to do new things. At this rate, we are worried they will just wither away and die through lack of effort and it is so infuriating watching this. When we compare them to my DH's parents and my DSis' in-laws, there is a world of difference. They are all of a similar age and some still work, others part-time, they volunteer, travel, do community activities etc. They are hardly ever in the house, unlike our parents who just sit around/watch crappy TV/go to Tesco.

If anyone can empathise or has some advice, I'd be very grateful to hear it.

HazelBite Tue 31-Oct-17 12:54:12

They are adults, are they happy?
If they are happy living their lives the way they do, just leave them be, you may think its all boring and pointless but they have made decisions about how they live, you don't know they may be very happy the way they are, I don't wish to say "butt out", but it is not your or your sisters place to tell them what you think they ought to be doing (according to you)

pallasathena Tue 31-Oct-17 12:58:04

My neighbours are exactly the same OP though they haven't a caring daughter like yourself to worry about them.
I pop in now and again but its hard going when the sole topic of conversation is the price of butter!
My neighbours, a couple in their late sixties appear to be frightened to try anything new. I've suggested normal groups and societies they could be interested in but no, every suggestion is met with an obstacle. Its as if they are so hidebound by the daily routine of being in the house, going shopping, coming home, that they can't find the will to break out, try something different and be a bit adventurous...but they won't. I sometimes think they can't....
There's a saying which is apt: "You can't change other people you can only change the way you react to them". But I do worry because its not much of a life for them and there's so much going on locally for their age group, they could have a bit of fun.
I think being kind, listening to their moans on occasion and not expecting anything to change is the best I can do.

MrsJayy Tue 31-Oct-17 12:59:58

My parents retired a couple of years ago they don't do much either they do dog sit for my sister so that gets them out but apart from that it is Morrisons on a thursday and bits and bobs during the week . They seem happy enough I am sure if your parents are bored they would do something surely? Not everybody is getup and go

oldestmumaintheworld Tue 31-Oct-17 13:13:08

I'm not quite as old as your parents, but may be able to offer some perspective.

I do understand that you and your sister are concerned about their health and well being (I too have elderly parents), but you must stop. They are adults and have the right to make their own decisions. You may not agree with them, or like them, but I'm sure you can acknowledge, they have the right to make them. They perhaps may not approve of the choices you and your sister have made - you live overseas and I'm sure would not like to be told you shouldn't have strayed so far from home.

The point is that you cannot change what they are doing. Enjoy your life with your husband and children in your way and let them get on with theirs.

Many people my age are retiring. I think they are mad and have no intention of doing so. I will carry on working as long as I possibly can. Some people think I'm nuts to carry on and make no bones about saying so. I tell them to mind their own business (albeit more politely). I think you and your sister should do the same.

PinkTiger Tue 31-Oct-17 13:15:51

Parents have never been people for pushing themselves out of their comfort zones and it's always been a battle to get them to do new things.

Maybe they are happy. I read this and thought "just leave them alone"!!

They are old enough and experienced enough to know what they want to do. Plenty of people just like being at home and have no interest in "new" things or being "pushed out of their comfort zones" or traveling.

It sounds I'm afraid as though you are hassling them to do stuff they don't want to do.

If your Dad likes bowls - he's doing something. Why this obsession with "new" things?

Leave these poor people alone to live their lives as they see fit. Assuming they are not suffering from any mental degeneration, they are 67 and 70 so well able to choose to live their lives as they wish to.

When we compare them to my DH's parents and my DSis' in-laws, there is a world of difference. They are all of a similar age and some still work, others part-time, they volunteer, travel, do community activities etc. They are hardly ever in the house, unlike our parents who just sit around/watch crappy TV/go to Tesco.

It sounds very much as you are projecting your own values and ideas about what makes for an interesting life on to them. Why on earth should a 70 year old man start volunteering/travelling/doing community activities just to make you happy? If he wanted to do it, he'd be doing it.

Seriously, leave them alone.

sophkins Tue 31-Oct-17 13:17:13

Yes I think you're being very controlling to be honest.

And the poster with the neighbours, maybe they don't want you popping round and are trying to get rid of you?

SealSong Tue 31-Oct-17 13:23:50

Do you know much about COPD? That is an illness that can be difficult to live with, and can affect how much activity people can do. Maybe they are struggling with their illness.
Anyway, it's their lives. If they are happy, what's the problem?

EllenRipley Tue 31-Oct-17 13:24:56

This isn’t an attack on you or your frustration but my mum has COPD and though she’s very active and sociable, she is easily exhausted and out of breath. Travelling long distances and/or to different climes is out of the question. It’s a serious and often life-limiting condition. Could there be an element of them just knowing their limits? And regardless of that, I know from experience that it’s nigh on impossible to influence or change your parents’ ways! I know I’ve had to practice acceptance.

PortiaCastis Tue 31-Oct-17 13:27:46

Leave them to live as they wish!

bluebellation Tue 31-Oct-17 13:30:31

OP, it's great that you're concerned about your parents' wellbeing, but as others have said, they may well be happy with their lifestyles. Speaking as someone in their mid-60s and semiretired, I love that I can spend time just pottering, with no commitments or deadlines. Maybe your parents worked hard bringing you and your siblings up and are grateful for the chance to just 'be' rather than doing all the time.

Lottapianos Tue 31-Oct-17 13:30:34

Well have a load of empathy from me smile My MIL sounds very similar - she's only 71 but acts like she's about 180. She retired 11 years ago and her world has been steadily shrinking since then. She used to drive but just stopped all of a sudden and sent her driving licence back. She has serious complications from diabetes because she doesn't look after herself at all - eats tons of chocolate, never checks her blood sugar etc. She spends days on end in the house watching telly and moans about it. She lives with FIL and they cannot stand each other. They pretty much live in separate rooms. She's relentlessly negative and doesn't really want to do anything.

Its very stressful and frustrating that she seems to do nothing to help herself. She's also nasty and critical so not fun to spend time with.

Maybe your parents are happy pottering around OP, you don't say. If they are, then fair enough I guess. However, if they are doing nothing and moaning about it, I understand your frustration completely

Popchyk Tue 31-Oct-17 13:34:37

COPD can be very debilitating. FIL pretty much gave up having an interest in anything even though he had plenty of get up and go a few years ago. He didn't want to go out in public because he was scared that he wouldn't be able to catch his breath and then 'make a scene' in public as he saw it.

Perhaps they are trying to shield you from the reality of how it affects them every day.

CMOTDibbler Tue 31-Oct-17 13:49:52

I'd leave them to it tbh. COPD is going to suck their energy, and if they don't want to do anything you can't make them.

And don't compare - at the same age, my PIL were gallivanting all over the world, but my parents who were/are both chronically ill had a world that had reduced to the supermarket and pub (where they go for lunch). Mine have always been pretty antisocial, and age hasn't changed that!

bufin Tue 31-Oct-17 14:18:45

I wonder if your parents wish you'd had kids younger and lived nearer, like their friend's children.

They might be wondering how the hell they managed to raise such bossy kids, I know I do.

DeltaG Tue 31-Oct-17 14:27:26

Hi Everyone, thanks for the replies.

I think the thing that is difficult is that they have been told by their doctors that they need to be doing regular light exercise in order to ease the progression of their COPD (which is mild for Mum and mild/moderate for Dad, who has had it longer). Mum does nothing and Dad plays bowls, which the doctor said was not enough on its own. They complain about their health issues but then don't follow the medical advice to help them. We are also concerned that their mental faculties will decline without much stimulation to keep their minds active - my sister has already commented that Mum seems to be becoming more anxious over non-tasks.

Mum in particular complains that her life is boring, in a way that suggests she has no control over it and is a victim of the situation. Both Mum and Dad moan about how their friends are so lucky to be going to X or doing this, that and the other. My sister and I have reminded them that the friends aren't 'lucky', they just arrange it and do it, which is exactly what they could do too.

We have bought them cinema passes, craft days, cross-stitch books and knitting patterns (for Mum, who is good at crafts but doesn't seem interested in doing them anymore), sent them free online learning courses for things they say they are interested in.....but it either gets done once and ignored, or not even tried.

I appreciate that we will likely have to resign ourselves to the fact that they won't engage in many of the things that they could or that we think they would enjoy, but if they could just do the minimum physical activity recommended by their doctors, it would be something.

Also to add, getting them to stop smoking was a horrible time. Dad was diagnosed first and told by the consultant that if he continued smoking as he was, he had 3 years before he'd be dead. He refused to accept it and continued to smoke (not helped by Mum, who was also smoking as normal). We begged and pleaded but they ignored us. In the end I told them I'd never come back to visit them and they'd die without seeing me again if they didn't stop. This worked. Dad then had a heart attack and triple bypass. We were there with him when the cardiac surgeon told him this was brought on by years of heavy smoking. He refused to accept this! Mum had stopped smoking by the time she was diagnosed, hence her COPD is milder. The COPD is limiting in some ways (they can't walk long distances or up hills etc. but it certainly doesn't stop them from doing most things).

canttestright Tue 31-Oct-17 14:31:01

Gosh @bufin that's rude and hurtful.

OP, I empathise- it sounds like they aren't especially happy - getting on each other's nerves- but don't know what else to do.

Have you tried asking them? My parents are aware they're in a rut but don't have many ideas themselves. I'm actually TTC and hoping once there is a grandchild nearby it will be something to engage them. I know my mum had a serious health issue recently and is now overly cautious about what she does/not tiring herself, but it is clearly actually having a more negative effect. She recently started going on walks with one of their neighbours and seems to really enjoy that.

Have you looked into things like the university of the third age? Is there anything they might be interested in? E.g. Volunteering, social events. You said your dad plays bowls- is there a club he could join the committee of, something like that?

I totally understand lots of people like to be left in peace, but it sounds like they don't quite know what to do with themselves and their quality of life isn't great. I think all studies show being part of a wider community really helps most people, but when you spend years working and starting a family you only really notice the lack of that when you're retired and not necessarily in the mood to seek out new people and experiences, or sure about how to go about it.

It isn't your responsibility, but I think an open conversation with them might help get to the bottom of whether they are secretly frustrated or actually happy enough getting on with things.

DeltaG Tue 31-Oct-17 14:31:45

@bufin - their closest friends don't have children. And the others are recent grandparents like them. They probably do wish I lived nearer and at times like this, so do I. But I moved abroad for my work, met DH (who is foreign) and now manage the relationship as best I can from where I am.

canttestright Tue 31-Oct-17 14:33:56

Cross-posted. One idea- a family member started going to a special mandated gym session after having heart surgery. Everyone there was seventy plus. It was amazing- they both felt much better but also socialised through it. I don't think it's widely available but if something like that was available, might they be open to it?

DeltaG Tue 31-Oct-17 14:39:56

@canttestright - funny you should mention it as they have both done this, as prescribed by their doctors. They enjoyed it and said they'd carry on afterward, but once it was finished they didn't. We asked them why, since they liked it and they didn't really have a reason, just that they hadn't got around to sorting it out etc.

DeltaG Tue 31-Oct-17 14:41:44

Thanks also for your other suggestions - very good advice and much appreciated.

Oly5 Tue 31-Oct-17 14:42:32

I think it sounds like you’ve suggested things and they just don’t want to change. In which case, this is their life and they should live it as they wish. Nagging daughters will only upset them and get on their nerves. Yes it may irritate you but who knows how you will feel at their age?
I’d try to enjoy the time you see them, take the kids over as mi h as you can but generally leave their lives to them.

junebirthdaygirl Tue 31-Oct-17 14:54:12

The more you suggest the more likely they are to teenagers. Leave them off. If they complain just look sympathetic and offer no suggestions. But do keep in touch often send pictures and generally just chat to them.

Littlepleasures Thu 02-Nov-17 20:26:33

I’ve got a similar situation in my life and it is so hard to stand back and watch your parent needlessly develop into a dependent invalid. Yes, I’ve explained that lack of exercise is lethal at their age, but I get blanked at every turn. I’m trying to accept its their life to throw away but it feels like a bereavement. They want a carer /patient relationship instead of an adult relationship. My parent has no major health issues with a still sharp mind, yet seems bent on maintaining a patient/carer relationship with her husband who seems accepting of his role. Not sure who they think will take over the role when he breaks under the strain. Oh, who has no right to interfere in their lives.

meowimacat Thu 02-Nov-17 20:58:19

My parents are the same but younger than yours. I even lived with them a couple of years and tried to get them more active. Unfortunately you can't force someone to do something. It has certainly pushed me into getting fit though, I don't want to end up like that, it's really sad sad still hoping I can change them somehow

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