Ask Fiona: I'm worried about my elderly aunt

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers her perspective on family dramas, emotional issues and dysfunctional relationships. This week: elderly relatives, paternity woes and a mean nurse

Elderly people may be less reluctant to seek help if they understand their options
Fiona Caine

MY elderly aunt, my only living relative, lives on her own and is fiercely independent. My mum, a single parent, died when I was 11, so my aunt brought me up and I love her to bits.

Recently she's had a number of illnesses and she's very unsteady, but she won't even consider coming to live with me and my family. I'm so worried about her. She seems to manage reasonably well, but what if she had a fall or something? She lives a good hour's drive away and, with a young family, it's hard to visit as often as I'd like.

Can you think of any way I could persuade her to move in, or at the very least, get help?


FIONA SAYS: Start by finding out what help is available – if your aunt understands her options, she may be less reluctant to seek help. Age UK ( can almost certainly point you in the right direction.

You might manage to persuade her, for example, to wear a personal alarm around her neck that she could activate in an emergency such as a fall. You might also look at accommodation options – some form of sheltered housing near you, perhaps, if she won't actually move in with you. The Elderly Accommodation Council ( helps people make informed choices about their needs.

Let your aunt know how much you love her and are concerned about her. If she won't listen and is as stubborn as you say then there isn't a lot you can do, but do point out how much worrying about her is upsetting you. At the very least, a personal alarm might relieve some of your anxiety.


My husband might not be her dad

MY DAUGHTER is now eight and I've never told my husband she may not be his child. I had a one-night stand with an old boyfriend when our marriage was going through a rough patch, and although we got back together very shortly afterwards, the timing means it's certainly possible.

We both love our daughter very much and I wouldn't want to tell him she may not be his child, but I do worry about it. My ex-boyfriend and I haven't seen one another since, and he probably has no idea he might be the father.

I don't really know why I feel so lousy now – almost nine years later – but I do. Should I try and find out who my daughter's real father is?


FIONA SAYS: A paternity test would confirm whether or not your husband is the natural father of your daughter, but arranging this without alerting him to the issue would be virtually impossible.

I sense part of the problem is that you're finding it difficult to keep your fears a secret, and perhaps what you really need is someone to talk to. What do you hope to gain by investigating this further; your husband loves your child and is a good father to her, so why risk spoiling what you already have?

I suggest you talk to the Samaritans ( or call 116 123) rather than keep things bottled up. If you feel you need more help, they can refer you to other confidential counselling services. You may find that simply telling someone how you feel is all the reassurance you need to put this problem behind you.


My nurse is rough with me

I'M 80 years old and can't walk without a stick as my legs are bad. I also have angina and have to have a nurse visit regularly. The one that comes is very rough with me and is rude and cruel at times. If I complain she's hurting me, she says the dressings will just have to stay in place for another week if I make a fuss. I'd like a different nurse but am scared to complain. What can I do?


FIONA SAYS: You should not be putting up with unfeeling and cruel treatment, but I can understand how you feel worried about reporting it. Do you have a friend or family member who could help you by contacting this nurse's supervisor? If there isn't anyone, could you speak to your GP and explain what's been happening?

If neither of these feels like an option for you then please contact the organisation Action on Elder Abuse ( If you don't have access to the internet, call their helpline on 080 8808 8141.

It's free and confidential to call, and the charity provides information, advice and support to people like you who are victims of abuse, and those who are concerned or have witnessed it. They also offer a Peer Support programme, where older people are brought together to support each other. Joining something like this might help you to get the support you need to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.


Father-in-law's payments leaving us short

MY HUSBAND lost his job 18 months ago which has left us dependent on my income.

We've been muddling through, but it's a real struggle, made worse by the fact his elderly father has recently come to live with us. He gives us £25 a week, which doesn't even cover the extra food we have to buy. I wouldn't mind if he was short of money but, with two pensions and sizeable savings, he's a lot better off than we are.

My husband doesn't feel he can tackle his father over this at the moment, but something has to be done. Please don't misunderstand me – I get on well with my father-in-law and am happy to have him with us – but I can't help resenting the fact we're subsidising him at a time when we can't afford to.


FIONA SAYS: While I don't think you can expect to make a profit from having your father-in-law live with you, I do think he should be giving you a realistic amount for his keep.

You don't say how old he is but, if he's quite elderly (and I'm guessing he is), he may not have a realistic idea about the cost of things. He may also not realise how difficult things are for you financially.

Perhaps you could take the initiative to explain things to him carefully, and suggest you'd like him to contribute a little more. Do this as calmly as you can and be fair in setting what is a reasonable amount to cover his share of food, light and heat, etc.

Finally, please tackle this soon – the longer you bottle up this resentment, the more likely it is to cause a hurtful row.

:: If you have a problem you'd like Fiona's advice with, please email


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