We are going to take a risk.

I’m writing this a few days before mum’s 97th birthday. In the last few weeks, her two grandchildren have both had new babies. She’s convinced they belong to my brother and his partner, who are both in their 60’s, and needs to be reminded that the new babies are my brother’s grandchildren. He did once, it is true, have a little girl and boy, but now they are grown up and have started families of their own.

The young couples have offered to come and visit mum the weekend of her birthday. But two new-borns, a very active two-year old and seven adults can’t descend on the Care Home. They will have to come to the house.  If mum wants to see The New Babies and her much-loved Great-Granddaughter, which of course she does, she can also come to the house. But she has to understand that she can’t sleep here. She will have to go back to the Care Home. I have explained this to her, and sometimes she seems to understand and sometimes she doesn’t. So, what to do for the best?

I’ve discussed this with several people and most of them say it’s too risky. It will unsettle mum and she’ll get too upset. But I still think it’s worth the risk for her to see The New Babies, which she very much wants to do. A Carer who’s become like a family friend, takes mum out for a drive once a week. When I mentioned my dilemma to her, she immediately offered to pick mum up from the Home and bring her to the house, then collect mum at 5pm and return her to the Home.

This has actually been my main concern. Because the problem will be when it’s time for mum to leave. If the Carer comes, mum will hopefully go with her without too much fuss – whereas she’s quite likely to play us up and give us a hard time. And so, it’s been arranged.

Recently, one of my friends suggested a strategy they used with her own elderly mother: tell mum she has two homes now. Her Own Home is still here, and I am looking after it, but she can’t live there anymore. I am trying this approach, telling mum she’s going to visit her Own Home and see The Babies but, because she’s so old now (she does tend to forget just how old she is, bless her!) and needs so much looking after that she needs to live in the Care Home where she can be safe and cared for.

In a few days, we’ll find out whether we were right to take the risk! This morning mum did say she understood that The Babies couldn’t come to the Care Home but that she could see them, if she came to the house. Fingers crossed it will all work out well. I really hope it does.

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Mum fails (or passes?) a test

A couple of years ago, I tried to get mum a clinical diagnosis of dementia. But although the Doc agreed there were issues with her short-term memory, they would not agree to give her a formal diagnosis. As I live with her full time, I felt they’d made a mistake, but there was nothing to be done.

After my recent brush with the bureaucrat, I realised a firm diagnosis would be helpful when I next had to deal with the bureaucracy, so I asked them to test mum again. This time, her results were greatly improved – at least from my point of view. Some might say she’s deteriorated. Her score had dropped sufficiently for them to decide (taking all other factors into account) that they’d give her the diagnosis without the need of a brain scan. (Thank goodness for that!) And mum is going downhill quite rapidly. She’s increasingly confused, losing words, forgetting names, getting muddled about the time of day. She can no longer work out how to switch on the tv, and has to be instructed on what to do during her trips to the toilet.

Sometimes though, especially when she wakes from a nap, her face is lit with a beatific smile, as if she’s stoned or she’s been in another dimension and is now surprised to find herself here, in this mundane world of material reality.

Whatever the Social Services might claim, it’s just not safe for us here anymore. Mum’s getting more and more unsteady. In fact, she had another fall the week before last, again on the steps coming up into the house from the conservatory. This time she was on the bottom step, so she just tipped back onto the carpeted floor. I was behind her once again, and once again cushioned her fall, altho I didn’t have to take her weight and manoeuvre her into a safe position like the last time. This time, I just stressed my neck, my back (once again), my knee (where I had an operation 20 years ago), and some general muscle ache around the ribs. Luckily, my brother came that weekend. Having a couple of days off helped me to recover – as did having a very nice time with friends in London!

I feel mean, but I’ve banned mum from the conservatory, where she likes to sit because it looks out over the garden. I’m terrified that, in the time left before we find a permanent place for her in a care home, mum’ll have another fall and this time it’ll be catastrophic – either for her or for me. Every moment she spends on her feet, I worry.

I especially don’t want her to injure herself before she goes on holiday! Yes! We’re planning to try and get mum down to Somerset for a week. She’s long expressed a wish to see my brother’s new house and to return to an area where she has fond memories of a holiday with dad. It’s taken quite a bit of arranging, but it has been arranged. I really hope it will all go smoothly and that the journey won’t be too much for her. We leave tomorrow. Watch this space, as they say!!

Mum has a bacon sandwich and I have a narrow escape

Mum really enjoyed the visit from my brother and his partner. She enjoyed having different people to talk to.  But then, two fresh, temporary carers have to be better than one grumpy, monosyllabic daughter.

She also enjoyed a change of diet. She had bacon sandwiches – which she likes very much, but which she never gets from me because I don’t eat bacon and won’t cook it; she had sausage and mash – which she also likes. But although I will cook her sausages (in a different pan from my veggie ones!) I get bored mashing the potatoes. Mum complained so much about how my mash was so lumpy that I now refuse to do it; and she also had take-away fish and chips – which I do eat, but can’t provide as I don’t have a car to go and fetch them.

For my brother and his partner it was a novelty; after two nights, they could leave and go back to their own lives. And as brother admitted, they did not have to deal with any messy ‘events’. Well, good, I’ve already booked them in for a second visit.

Just being able to walk away from the house, knowing mum would be 100% looked after, made a huge difference. To be able to hand over the responsibility of mum’s care to my brother and head off to the station, felt like I’d laid down a burden. And even though my break lasted little more than 48 hours I felt much better for it, with more energy to carry on with what is an increasingly heavy task of sheer drudgery.

I spent my free time in London. I stayed with my South London pals, one of whom I’ve known since school.  It was so civilised not having to get up at the crack of dawn, get mum changed and then make a dash for the station, praying the train would be running. It was so relaxing to be plied with delicious food and sensible conversation the evening before. Then, the next morning, to eat a leisurely breakfast and get a bus over the river. We were meeting up with two other old school friends at the Tate Gallery. We planned to see the new retrospective exhibition of David Hockney. When I walked into the exhibition, I almost burst into tears. I felt as if I’d found my identity once more; that I was again a person I recognised, the sort of person who goes to art galleries. And I’ll say in brackets that the next morning, before I returned here, we went to see another exhibition, this time of Vanessa Bell, which was equally wonderful, although in a very different way.

But back to our rendezvous at the Tate. After lunch, we couldn’t decide what to do next. One of us wanted to check out a nearby boutique that sells individual, crafted jewellery; then someone else suggested we went to a cafe she’d discovered that was just round the corner. But the cafe had closed down. We dithered, trying to decide what to do next.

We discussed getting a bus over to the South Bank. If we’d done that, we’d have gone round Parliament Square and crossed Westminster Bridge sometime around 2.30pm. When we talked about it later, we couldn’t remember why we’d suddenly changed our minds. But out of the blue, we decided to return to the Tate and have coffee there. Just after 2.30pm, a mad man drove his car into a crowd of innocent bystanders on Westminster Bridge. He killed a policeman outside the Houses of Parliament and was then killed himself. If we’d got that bus, we might well have been caught up in the mayhem. As it was, the Gallery was just outside the locked-down, cordoned off area and we all managed to get home safely.

I don’t know whether I believe in Guardian Angels, but I certainly feel like I had a narrow escape!

By the way, I apologise for not posting sooner but I had some IT issues and I just didn’t have the mental energy to sort them out…until now!

We survive Granddaughter’s wedding

Just as Cinderella went to the ball, my mother went to her granddaughter’s wedding. And in spite of it being a logistical nightmare, everything went smoothly. The hire car driver was a nice chap who dealt with mum well. He did the journey in just over 2 hours – which was really quick and just at mum’s limit. At the Care Home Mum had a bit of a wobbly ‘Are you leaving me here all on my own?’ but my niece saved the day by arriving with Great Grand Daughter – which improved mum’s mood no end.

My hotel was about 6 miles away. To get there, I got a cab through the countryside, along dark lanes. I felt a little nervous but the driver was ok. And the hotel was good. It’s a converted manor house on the edge of a village. I had a single room but it was nice and big, obviously meant for people travelling alone on business. Mind you, it wasn’t cheap! And the bus back to town stopped right outside. So the next day I caught a bus into the central bus station, and from there I got another bus out to the Home.

Mum seemed fine, so I got the bus back and found a groovy coffee bar that did really nice coffee and panini. I began to relax. Eventually I returned to the hotel, which turned out to be in a pleasant historical village. After dinner I met some people I knew in the lounge. My brother’s first wife – and the mother of his children -died tragically young, but her family have maintained close contact. I knew them from all those years ago and it was unexpectedly pleasant to see them again – which was good, because apart from them I didn’t really know any other wedding guests!

The great day dawned. The staff at the Home seemed to enjoy the challenge of getting mum to the wedding. They arranged for her to have her hair done, made sure she got dressed in her wedding outfit without spilling porridge down the front – and were happy to welcome her back late in the evening. But I couldn’t have managed without my nephew and his wife who came up absolute trumps. They’d borrowed a folding wheelchair and nephew pushed mum around for most of the day. The church was on the top of a hill, as these charming old buildings often are. Nephew pushed her up the slope through the churchyard and then helped get her back down through the crowd of guests. Back at the hotel, we had the reception. Mum was mentioned in the speeches. Everyone clapped and cheered the fact she’d made it. She enjoyed seeing people; she even enjoyed the party in the evening. I thought she’d find the music too noisy but no, she really didn’t want to leave. In the end, I booked a cab for 10pm, which was quite late enough for old ladies of 95! Besides, until I’d taken her back to the care home – another scary drive through the dark countryside but again I was lucky and the driver was fine – I couldn’t really relax. Then I did have a couple of drinks and a dance. I even had a cigarette as we all sat around chatting until after midnight.

Sunday morning brother, nephew and nephew’s wife took me and mum out for a woodland walk, which she really enjoyed. And then…..we left her to rest. Brother dropped me off in Glastonbury on his way home. I had a terrible night. When I woke up the next day, I thought I had the flu. I realised I was detoxing from all the stress that I’d been living with for months: should mum go? could she manage? Because she wanted to go so much, I’d tried to make it possible but, if anything had gone wrong, the responsibility would have been all mine. But I felt blessed, as they say, that I could detox and de-stress in the wonderful Chalice Well gardens and guest house in magical, mystical Glastonbury.

On Tuesday I sadly got the bus back and picked up mum. The hire car driver arrived and brought us home without any problems. However, I’d not been prepared for just how long it would take mum to recover from the trip. For over a week now she’s been incredibly difficult, fractious and ultra confused – the one good thing is that she’s been going to bed early! – and it’s really been doing my head in. I still have an awful lot of things to sort out, both for myself as well as for mum, as she’s about to go into respite care for two weeks and I am going on holiday to Portugal. (I can’t wait!)

But I’m pleased mum made the wedding – and so is she! She even said thank you!!

My niece is getting married

My niece, that is to say my mother’s granddaughter, is getting married in a couple of weeks. The wedding was announced earlier this year and since then it has been a constant background of white noise in my life. Mum wants to go to the wedding, I mean she really wants to go to the wedding but she’s not sure if she should go. ‘It will be too much trouble for everyone.’ But you want to go? ‘Yes, I want to go.’ So, we will try to work something out. And then, the next day: ‘I don’t think I’ll go to the wedding.’ But I thought you wanted to go? ‘I do! But perhaps it will be too much trouble for everyone.’ On and on, in a refrain which has been repeated endlessly – and when I say endlessly, I do mean, endlessly – for months.

One of the main issues is that mum will have to stay alone in a residential care home. She can’t possibly stay in the hotel with everyone else as she is too disabled, incontinent etc. But it took a long, long time and many conversations before I was absolutely certain that mum had fully grasped this. She often complains that she hasn’t understand something – even though we’ve had several seemingly sensible discussions about the matter in question – so I couldn’t risk her having a tantrum about staying in a care home when it was too late to do anything about it. And so, slowly, patiently, I have repeated and repeated: you will have to stay ALONE in a residential home. Do you understand?

The next step was to find a suitable place. My brother and my niece live in the area so I thought it made sense for them to look for one. I had the impression my brother didn’t really want to be bothered. ‘She’ll never make the journey’ (It’s three hours in a hire car). And ‘It’ll be a logistical nightmare.’ That’s so true. However, she does really want to go and she thinks she’ll be ok to make the trip so, after a lot of encouragement on my part, my brother actually did find a place that he thinks will be ok and which is close to where my niece lives. And it seems mum has accepted she’ll be staying there. My nephew, meanwhile, has elected to organize a wheelchair for mum to use during the wedding day.

So, this is the plan. Mum and I will travel on the Thursday. I’ll leave her at the Home and get a cab to the hotel. Mum will spend Friday resting although I will check on her (apparently there are buses I can catch) after which I will spend the day mooching around a town which does not appear to have a museum, art gallery or historical centre. (Its tourist webpage lists a shopping mall as one of the attractions!) On Saturday, my nephew and his wife will pick me and my brother’s partner up from the hotel, then we will pick up mum and go on to the church. At some point on Saturday night, someone (probably me) will take mum back to the Home in a taxi. On Sunday the rest of the family can visit mum, but I’m heading for Glastonbury which is only a few miles away from the hotel. I’ll spend two nights there on a sort of recuperative retreat while mum rests. On Tuesday morning I’ll get the bus back to the town, which should take about an hour, and get mum ready for the arrival of the hire car. And then we’ll come back here, hopefully without any drama.

I don’t mind helping mum get to the wedding, and working out how to cope with her disabling arthritis but I hadn’t prepared for the stress that’s caused by her dementia and loss of short term memory. Even a couple of days ago, she started the litany again. ‘I don’t think I’ll go to the wedding, It’ll be so much trouble for everyone.’ I nearly screamed. I told her it’s all been arranged and it’s too late to change her mind!

This wedding should have been a pleasant if slightly dull family occasion. It should have been a long weekend that just involved booking a hotel room, booking a train ticket, and buying a nice outfit. But now, it’s become something I can’t think about without feeling I’m getting a migraine, something that needs to be endured. And in mum’s mind, it’s assumed huge proportions – like the coronation or something equally momentous. But then perhaps, it’s the last major social event she expects to attend.

I’ll be oh so glad when the whole thing is over!

Mum turns 95

This week was Mum’s 95 birthday. Two days before, she met her great-granddaughter for the first time. This has lifted her spirits no end.

She’s been saying recently that she just wants to see The Baby and then she wants to ‘go’. Indeed, one morning she was so blue, she said she didn’t even care about  seeing baby! She asked me several times if dad died at Xmas. He died just after New Year, but this is the first time she’s brought the subject up in the five years since his death. She wondered if she would die at the same time of year as he had?

My grandmother had a stroke on the anniversary of my grandfather’s death and died shortly afterwards. So I began to be a bit concerned. But since mum’s seen The Baby, there’s been no more of such talk.

The birthday celebrations went on for several days, starting with a visit from my cousins bearing gifts from their side of the family. Since then, there’s been a steady stream of visitors: my brother, his kids and their partners – and The Baby of course; neighbours etc. At the last count, mum had received 19 birthday cards. She even got greetings via Face Book. All this has improved her mood immensely.

Mum has always been a gregarious person who enjoys chatting and laughing. I can’t really provide that sort of companionship. I could do, if there were two of me: one to do all the work and one to sit and chat and watch tv. The carers, who are here for an hour, the cleaners, the hair dresser, all cheer her up briefly, but mainly, she misses my father.

She told me, ‘I just want to see my Frank. Do you think he will find me when I die?’ I don’t know the answer to that one. I imagined the afterlife like a very crowded wartime railway station with refugees pouring off packed trains. I said ‘Well, thousands and thousands of people die every day. It might not be so easy for him to find you.’ She smiled and shook her head. ‘You don’t know my Frank. If there’s a way, he’ll find it.’

Well, of course, I hope she’s right. But for now, The Baby seems to have provided some sort of compensation for being forced to stay in this boring world. She has the child’s photo by her chair and speaks to it a lot. And she does seem to be much happier. I guess she really was, quite simply, depressed.

 

mum&alana

A year has gone by.

A year has gone by since I started this blog. First I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who reads it, and who have left comments. I can’t tell you how much that means to me. There are times when I feel very cut off and isolated. During those times it’s great to know that what I’m writing is being read. I’m like a character marooned in outer space who suddenly gets a response to the signals she’s been sending off into the cosmos in the hope that someone somewhere might pick them up.

Having said that, I don’t think I made a mistake by moving in with mum. I miss my life in London, of course I do. But it’s also clear that her condition has deteriorated in the last twelve months – which is good because, if she’d stayed the same, I’d be wondering why I had bothered to give up my freedom! Whereas these days it’s obvious she can no longer manage on her own.

It’s been much harder work than I expected. I expected I’d help her with things she was struggling with, owing to her arthritis. I didn’t anticipate she would just put her feet up and expect to be waited on hand and foot! Also, I did not realise how confused she was mentally. I thought she had difficulties with the modern world, but I really had no idea of the true extent of it. Nor did I know anything about dementia. I know quite a bit more now!

I thought I’d be bored, but I battle to have time to myself. I never have a lie-in or an early night. Even when I was sick, I never got that luxury. It’s also annoying that I can’t control the use of my time. Last night, I thought – ‘I’ve got an hour, I’ll get the blog post finished’ – at which point there was a cry of distress from the bathroom. Mum was having one of her incidents. To sort it out and clear it up, took an hour. And by then, I just wanted to go to bed.

But the hardest thing is that I’m never alone in the house. I used to live by myself and I just wish I could have a day, even a few hours, when I didn’t have to worry about someone else’s presence! At night, if I can’t sleep, I’m always aware that I could wake mum up and indeed, when I go to sleep, I’m aware she could call me in the middle of the night, and I’d be duty bound to get up and tend to her! Of course, I’m by myself when I go out, but that’s not like staying at home and relaxing on the couch. And when I leave the house it’s normally because I have chores. A few friends have nobly made their way down to Chichester. We’ve generally met up for lunch which has been a wonderful chance to have some decent conversation – and also for me to get to know the city because of course, I’ve no prior connection to the place at all.

And now winter is coming – a time when we in the northern hemisphere spend a lot of time inside, on top of one another. I’ll admit the idea of spending a second winter here, does make me feel pretty gloomy. But I have strategies in place now to protect my boundaries. I have this blog, and most days I try to spend a couple of hours doing ‘creativity’ for my mental health – that’s to say, I’m writing a fantasy novel which is marvellous escapism. And I enjoyed the spinning workshop I did on my birthday. I even produced a small amount of wool – let’s see if that will lead me somewhere new and unknown during the next twelve months.

I lose my voice

I’ve been ill. Not super ill, just the sort of under-the-weather type virus when you want to curl up in your pyjamas, read magazines and watch DVDs. I wanted to sleep in and go to bed early. But I couldn’t do that, could I? I had to look after mum.

At first I thought I was just getting a cold perhaps because of the change of season. Then I started coughing until, finally, I lost my voice. This final symptom was actually quite restful, as I couldn’t keep answering mum’s repeated questions. I just smiled at her and shrugged.

There’s no doubt I was run down. The last few weeks have been hard work. Mum’s condition has deteriorated quite a bit. I’ve now developed strategies for dealing with various new issues – like complete nocturnal incontinence! – but it’s all put a lot more pressure on me. Normally when I get a cold or a virus I take it as a sign I need to rest, to stop, to recuperate – but I couldn’t do any of those things. And these last few days have made me realise how difficult it would be, if I did get properly sick.

I’ve recently registered for a scheme whereby, should anything happen to me, mum will receive 48 hours emergency care. Someone will come in and do the chores, get her meals etc but only if it’s an emergency. Hopefully we’ll never need to use it, but it won’t kick in if I just feel like taking to my bed. And although I managed to keep us fed and the washing done, I was struggling. Mum ran out of one of her medications, while photos of new great-granddaughter arrived in an email and were overlooked – just because I wasn’t on top of things.

During this time, Mum never once made an effort make herself a cup of tea or do anything else to help me nor did she expect any less help from me! She did repeatedly ask, in what I found an annoyingly concerned sort of voice, ‘are you taking any medication?’ I wanted to shout at her, ‘Of course I am! That’s how I’m keeping going! But what I really need is to lie down and rest!’ As I couldn’t say that, I just muttered things like, ‘yeah’, ‘Sure’, ‘Mmm’ or even ‘Leave me alone!’

I really hope I don’t get sick again because there’s no easy way to recover. It was my birthday this week, and I managed to have a fun morning learning how to spin (!) at a local museum of rural life – but I spent the afternoon asleep. I couldn’t face writing, emailing – or blogging – because once I’d done what I had to do, I really did not feel like doing anything else. So I feel like I lost my voice in more ways than one.

Fingers crossed I can stay healthy through the coming winter. I’m stocking up on the Vitamin C…

I aim for high cognitive reserve!

A friend suggested I enrol on a free online course called understanding dementia, run by the University of Tasmania. http://www.utas.edu.au/wicking/wca/mooc

So far, I have completed two out of the total nine weeks and done the basic introductory sessions – and if knowledge really is power, then I’m definitely feeling more powerful! That’s to say, I’m finding it much easier to deal with mum’s lack of short term memory now I understand about the hippocampus – the section of the brain concerned with memory formation. It helps people order things that happen during the day and contextualise events.

So now, when mum asks me a question for the umpteenth time, I visualise her hippocampus malfunctioning. This intellectual understanding has helped me to keep my cool. I understand there is a physiological reason why she can’t remember what I’ve been telling her for several hours. I understand she really can’t hold a thought because a certain part of her brain is collapsing (well there’s probably a more scientific way of putting it).

When I had to state my reasons for doing the course I wrote: my father died of vascular dementia, my mother is increasingly confused – and I want to be able to recognise the warning signs for myself! I haven’t yet got to that part of the course, but I already know I must develop a ‘high cognitive reserve’. As I understand it, this means creating new pathways for information to flow between neurons, because the more alternatives you have, the greater the chance the brain can find other ways to pass information between cells if it becomes damaged by dementia.

Neurons in the brain build connections, adapt and develop as we learn new skills. Things like learning languages – or doing a course of study – are ways of creating a cognitive reserve. With this in mind, I decided to start speaking to mum in French – just simple phrases such as ‘I’m on my way’ or ‘do you want a cup of tea?’. She studied French when she was at school, in the early 1930’s, and amazingly she does still remember some of it and quite likes that she can work out what I’m saying. And it’s actually making those boring daily task more fun for me too.

A la prochaine!

Mum gets a kiss from dad.

Most mornings it’s hard to wake mum up. Sometimes when I go into her room, I think she may have died. Then I notice a fluttering of the eyelids, a bit of a gasp and she’s struggling back across the border lands to consciousness. Often, you get the impression she doesn’t like what she sees.

But the other morning it was different, she was alert and happy. She told me, in the night, dad had leant over the bed and given her a kiss. Dad’s been dead for 4 ½ years and in that time mum’s been disappointed that she hasn’t felt his presence around her. Now, finally he had come. He had leaned across and given her a kiss and told her he was worried about something. Worried about what? She did not know.

She often asks me, do you think I’ll see your father again? Well, I tell her, that’s a question no one can answer. But I thought, on odds, there was a 50/50 chance. Either there’s nothing and our consciousness dissolves, or we remain conscious but in a new dimension – in which case, I told her, it was possible they would find each other. She feels sure dad will meet her. ‘If there’s a way, he’ll find it.’

Perhaps her hope to see dad is a way through a dark place. Mum has a lot of pain. She cries a lot and says she’s had enough and wants to die. Still, it must be scary, stepping into that unknown beyond. Perhaps the idea that dad is waiting for her gives her strength to face it.

Perhaps he came to tell her he would be waiting to give her a hand across.