What can you do if your elderly mother wants constant attention? Perhaps you are willing and able to provide the care she needs, but your partner is resentful? Maybe you didn’t have the best relationship growing up with your mother, and you feel conflicted now that she expects you to care for her. Or do you live far away and regular visits are not possible?
As we age, our mental health may deteriorate, we become less physically active, and our mortality looms ever large. We may lose life partners or close friends. Retirees miss the camaraderie of their colleagues, resulting in a compromise of our social activity.
Family ties weaken as children move away and forward with their lives. Perhaps we have left the family home to live a more manageable life in a neighbourhood we don’t know. All these factors negatively affect our social circle, resulting in loneliness and a need for attention.
Why your elderly mother wants constant attention
You cannot implement effective strategies if you don’t know the root cause of your elderly mother’s constant need for attention. There are several reasons why the elderly become needy:
- They are lonely and isolated
- They think they don’t matter to you
- They think you have a lot of free time
- They cannot manage household chores
- They have memory problems
- They have experienced a traumatic event
- They are manipulating you
Think about the cause of your elderly mother’s need for attention, then act accordingly.
What to do when your elderly mother wants constant attention?
1. If she is lonely and depressed – Engage her with people her age
Studies document the wide-ranging effects of loneliness on the elderly. Loneliness in old age leads to mental and physical health problems. Having said that, no child can take on the full responsibility of constant care for their elderly parents.
Research also shows that older people make friends with people their age. Are there any community activities designed for older people in her neighbourhood? Does she have elderly neighbours that she can get together with?
“Persons involved with a positive relationship tend to be less affected by everyday problems and to have a greater sense of control and independence. Those without relationships often become isolated, ignored, and depressed. Those caught in poor relationships tend to develop and maintain negative perceptions of self, find life less satisfying, and often lack the motivation to change.” Hanson & Carpenter, 1994.
Where I live, several widows take turns making Sunday lunch for one another. Is there social care available that offers supervised trips away or days out? Some communities have a club for seniors where the elderly can come along and have tea and a chat.
One sign of loneliness is a lack of motivation, so it may well be up to you to find these activities and encourage your elderly mother to participate.
2. If she thinks she doesn’t matter to you – Involve her in family occasions
Perhaps your elderly mother wants constant attention because she feels she’s not getting any. As we age, we become less important to our families and society. We merge into the background and turn invisible. No one asks for our opinions; nobody wants our advice. It’s a lonely place to inhabit.
We all know that old saying ‘treat people as you want to be treated yourself’. Imagine being old and lonely and feeling like a burden to your family. It’s soul-destroying. But we all age, and one day you will be in a similar position to your elderly mother.
Perhaps your partner will die before you and all your friends are dead. What a horrible existence. That could be what your elderly mother is facing. Be kind, accommodating, and inclusive. Why not involve her in family occasions such as Christmas, birthdays, and anniversaries? You can also arrange to phone regularly or invite her for Sunday lunch every month.
3. If she thinks you have as much free time as she does – Explain your life to her
One reason your elderly mother wants constant attention is because she thinks you do nothing all day and could spend it with her. We all assume people live a life similar to ours. In other words, we are all busy and are dog-tired when we finish work. But the elderly have more free time than we do. It is easy for them to assume we can answer the phone at all hours of the day. Or that we can drop everything and come and see them.
Go through a typical day with your elderly mother and show her how much spare time you have. Advise that calling during the day is impossible because you’re working/looking after the kids. Seeing your reality can change her perspective. Insist you are not ignoring her; you are just getting on with your life.
Explain that it would be impossible for you to spend every waking moment with her. You have your own family. That doesn’t mean you don’t care about her; however, you can let her know when you are available.
If you work or have children, your elderly mother cannot expect to dominate your free time, but you can set up dates for a regular phone call or visit. Talk to her about your responsibilities and how you divide your time. Then together, plan a timetable that makes you both happy.
4. If she cannot manage household chores – Employ a carer/cleaner
I have an elderly neighbour who lives on her own with no close family members nearby. Once a week, I take her shopping to give her independence.
I have also looked into what benefits she is entitled to. Some elderly people are entitled to government benefits if they are not well enough to take care of themselves. My neighbour had a stroke last year and with my help now receives an allowance to help with her health needs. This means I don’t have to worry about her having a clean house or being looked after.
If you cannot employ a carer to visit regularly, talk to family members and see what assistance they can provide. It doesn’t have to be physical. Perhaps a sibling lives in another country but can help financially? Talk to her neighbours; does she get on with them; are they willing to keep an eye on her or even take a spare key for emergencies?
5. Does she have memory problems – Check for dementia
A decline in mental capacity can often lead to a need for constant attention. Your mother may not realise she is demanding more of your time. As we age, our memory becomes less reliable, and this causes worry and confusion.
There is also a chance your mother may have dementia. Signs of dementia often look like neediness, for example, needing constant reminders and reassurance, and clingy behaviour.
“Memory issues can also cause a senior to repeatedly seek attention and reassurance because they cannot remember that their caregiver has already met these needs.” Sheri Samotin, Ageing Care
Your elderly mother might repeat herself constantly, and this can be frustrating. Try using a calendar and marking off the days you are visiting so your mother has a visual reference she can rely on. Or designate one day a week for a regular call or visit.
6. If she has experienced a traumatic event – Make her feel safe
My elderly neighbour fell down the stairs in the middle of the night and could not get up to raise the alarm. She spent months in the hospital and was unwilling to do anything for herself upon return. Before the accident, she was independent and sociable. Now back home, she was too frightened to go upstairs.
Her friends rearranged her house, putting a bed downstairs and access to washing and toilet facilities. We all had keys for an emergency and would text or call regularly. She had to learn to feel safe again in her home.
Whenever she moved out of her comfort zone, we praised her and gave her positive reinforcement. This encouraged her to do more for herself and regain her independence.
7. She could be manipulating you – Stick to your boundaries
Of course, some elderly mothers demand your constant attention as a form of manipulation. In this case, your best option is to get on with your life, set firm boundaries, and take no nonsense.
Don’t be guilt-tripped into spending time with your elderly mother. Ignore any gaslighting techniques such as playing siblings against each other. Your elderly mother will know what buttons to press to gain sympathy and attention.
You may think you know what your elderly mother needs and what is best for her, but until you speak to her, you won’t know. It is possible that you have been busy with work or family and she feels neglected and less important. All it would take is a catchup once a week for her to feel connected again. Or maybe she’d like to spend time with the grandchildren once in a while.
The elderly fair better when they have a choice and control over their lives. So, if your elderly mother wants constant attention, ask her how you can give her the attention she wants.
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