Category Archives: Carer

Dementia

I have thought for a while that my dad might be showing signs of dementia. Yesterday confirmed this. He has had several falls in the last fortnight and all tests came back clear – no sign of any infection. I just happened to be with him yesterday when the doctor came to call. He checked his blood pressure and listened to his chest. He asked him how he felt and he said ‘Fine!’  He had fallen yesterday morning and complained of a painful bottom so was taken to the local A&E to be checked over.

The doctor asked me if I thought he might be confused. I confirmed my suspicions with plenty of examples…..asking the same question repeatedly, not remembering having a blood sample taken, not knowing why he was on his feet when he fell….it was quite a long list.

The doctor asked if dad would mind answering some questions. He agreed.

‘What is your date of birth?’

He got that one right.

‘Do you know what year it is?’

‘1997’

‘Do you know what month it is?’

‘April’

‘Could you count backwards from 20 to 1 for me?’

‘20,19, 16…..18…..’

And so it went on. He certainly demonstrated that there was something to be concerned about.

So now we start down the route of tests and checks to ascertain exactly what is happening to him.

We won’t be the first and we certainly won’t be the last.

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Our Day Out

One of the biggest problems of being a carer is the difficulty of having a day out or a break away from the person you look after. Logistically, a lot of arrangements have to be in place before you can get away and spontaneity is not a possibility. We have previously used a local care home for dad’s respite care but we thought we would give Country Cousins a try. They provide you with fully-checked live-in carers so that your relative can stay in their familiar surroundings and stick to their usual routine.

Last year we added RHS Chelsea Flower Show to out calendar and promised ourselves we would go in 2014. It is easy to think of reasons why you won’t be able to do it but in a moment of madness I booked two tickets online, knowing that this would commit us to having some time on our own together.

Our lovely Carer arrived the night before and the following morning we set off for our day out. We took the Grand Central train from Hartlepool to London King’s Cross. It was a relaxing journey. We had packed a lovely picnic and a nice bottle of Malbec, so arrived in London feeling relaxed and happy!

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A quick Tube journey found us at Sloane Square Station and then a short walk in the warm sunshine took us to the gates of the Chelsea Royal Hospital. The show was every bit as lovely as we thought it would be.

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We wandered from one area to another, noting our favourites and planning what we could do with our own garden. The weather was generally quite kind, with just one torrential thunderstorm sending people rushing to the indoor exhibits and leaving the site with lots of puddles for the rest of the day.

Here are some of our highlights.

We both loved the wide variety of water features and there is definitely going to be some sort of pool or pond in our garden really soon. This was particularly attractive:

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This was also very appealing. The use of plants vertically was so unusual too.

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For a bit of fun, we enjoyed seeing this outdoor sitting room:

Outdoor sitting room

There were so many amazing things to see but we both adored the Waitrose displays because the mix of flowers, fruit and vegetables arranged according to colour was so appealing.

Waitrose

 

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We loved the tree ferns!

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And some other highlights here:

A very unusual Bougainvillea.

Bougainvillea

 

Cushions of lovely flowers:

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Towering glass flowers:

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Crowds gathering to watch the BBC teams filming:

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A tree house with revolving turret:

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The scent of the Lilies:

Lilies

 

 

The driftwood horses:

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Two tired but happy people made their way back to King’s Cross, where we rounded off the day with a superb pizza and a glass or two of wine before getting the Grand Central back to rainy Hartlepool.

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We had the most wonderful day!

 

Smile of the day

Being a Carer can involve a lot of emotion and sometimes brings laughter as well as tears. My father lives with us – by ‘us’ I mean me, my husband, one noisy elderly Siamese cat and a crazy little Shih Tzu called Holly. We get along OK and take one day at a time, not knowing what the future holds.

My morning routine is to get up at 6:30, get showered and dressed, make dad a coffee and get his first tablets of the day, then go to get him up, showered and dressed too. He enjoys listening to Classic FM on his headphones during the night so after his tablets I remove his headphones and help him sit up. This morning I could hear the Brandenburg Concerto as I replaced the headphones on his radio.

‘You can’t beat a bit of Bach in the morning’ I said to dad, who is deaf in one ear.

‘Is it Holly?’ he replied and then wondered why I was laughing so much.

It then struck me, as I was helping him to the shower, that to an outsider looking in, we made a very strange sight. Walking frame up front, naked dad holding on to it for balance, me behind with my hands on his hips, guiding him in the right direction…..we must have looked like some weird, geriatric Conga!

Some days you just have to laugh.

The worst bits

I am still caring for my father. To be fair, he isn’t really much trouble and is perfectly happy in his own room, watching TV or listening to Classic FM. I make his food, wash and iron his clothes, do his shopping, help him with personal care and make sure his money is safe and working well for him. The vast majority of the time, this works well.

Of course, it has its moments. One of the worst parts is the fact that I am not free. Not free to have a lie-in. Not free to have a weekend away. Not free to just go out for the day. Luckily, I am a bit of a home bird and enjoy being ‘in’. I am also a very popular neighbour – always there to take in people’s deliveries!

I also feel bad for my husband, who actually would like to go out with me sometimes too. We can make arrangements, of course, but it requires preparation and emergency procedures. We have Telecare in Hartlepool and this is brilliant. Dad wears a button on his wrist and knows that if he falls or is worried about anything, help will be there in a few minutes. We also use an app which lets me see him on my laptop webcam from my phone, as long as we are somewhere with a wi-fi signal.

Not every day is good. Occasionally we have worrying events which make me think that perhaps there is some dementia there or at least some brain damage caused by the mini-strokes he has suffered. A few days ago I heard him shouting. I went upstairs to find him sitting on a small oak table on the landing, pants and trousers round his ankles. He thought he was at the toilet. Fortunately, he had not ‘been’ and called for me when realising his mistake. Perhaps the small fibre optic Christmas tree he had crushed brought him to his senses and made him realise his mistake? It is the sort of thing you laugh about afterwards but still leaves you with worries for the future.

My days are mapped out and run according to the clock. Spontaneity is not an option. We are back to the issue of holiday care as have booked ourselves a cruise in March, having sold our lovely motorhome as we aren’t free to use it as we used to. The lovely home where dad went last time doesn’t have a respite care room so you run the risk of finding they have no rooms available the week before your holiday. I’ve been investigating live-in care. It isn’t cheap but that’s not the issue. My greatest worries are that we’ll get someone who is not suitable or who doesn’t look after him as well as I’d like. What if they don’t respect my lovely house? Have wild parties? Don’t stay in the house with dad? I’ve always had ‘trust’ issues!

Being a carer has its ups and downs. I’m certainly not complaining as this is something I chose to do. I was under no pressure to do it. But I hope that by writing about my experiences, it might help others in the same boat or those considering caring for an elderly relative.

Don’t Give Up

A while ago, I shared my thoughts on respite care for full-time carers. At that time, I was feeling ‘carer guilt’ at looking for somewhere for dad while I took a little break. It took a few phone calls and a couple of visits but I think I have been successful in my mission.

You know when you visit a place and it just feels right? Well, that’s how it felt when I walked into this place. It smelled lovely, the residents were happy and smiling and happy to chat. One lady told my dad that he wouldn’t want to go home again after staying there. ‘It’s wonderful’ she said.

We had a good look around and were so impressed with the facilities. Lovely communal rooms, lovely bedrooms with mini fridge and wet room. The staff were understanding and positive. The local environment is beautiful.

Today, the Manager came out to see us to do a pre-assessment of dad’s needs. It’s a small world – she had been Manager at dad’s last home for a while. She is an amazing lady and we warmed to her instantly. Nothing was too much trouble for her. What did dad enjoy? She would ensure that he had everything he liked for his stay. Gin and tonic? Red wine? Lager? She said she would ensure he got it.

We talked for ages and she made notes. When she left she gave him a hug. Dad told me he feels really happy about going there for a break and I feel confident that he will be well looked after for his stay. All being well, we should be able to have the occasional break now and he will be happy to call this place his home from home. If the worst comes to the worst and his health deteriorates to the point where I can no longer care for him, it means he will know the staff and routines there and it would be the natural choice for his continuing care.

No more ‘carer guilt’. I have a big grin on my face today.

Today’s the Day

I’ve done all the reading and researching, website searching, report reading and picture watching. So today is the day that I take a look at a handful of local care homes to find the right place for dad while we take a two week break. I have put this off for so long and really have to bite the bullet today. We hope to try out one for a weekend and then subject to him feeling ‘happy’ about it, will book the dates in for our holiday.

No matter how hard I try, I can’t shake off the feeling of ‘putting dad in the kennels’. Yet I know that after eleven months of full-time caring, I deserve this break and more especially, my husband does too. Even though he doesn’t really play a big part in the day to day care of my dad, he does feel the lack of freedom to go out with me for a meal, a weekend break or even just a walk together.

I started with a list of all local care homes and deleted as I went along. Every home owned by the company that ran his last one went straight off the list. He said he didn’t want to go into a big home so they were removed too. (I have my own concerns about this issue but they are gut reactions and probably just silly). Then, some were geared up to people with dementia and I felt that these might be inappropriate. It would be nice if the place we chose had other residents that he could hold an intelligent conversation with.

Today I will pay a visit to four homes. Unannounced. This is my ruse to get a gut reaction on arrival. Sneaky? Yes. But necessary, I think. I have drafted a list of questions. Can he have a shower when he wants? Will someone help him to dress? Can he have a glass of wine with his dinner? Will someone rub emollient cream on his flaky legs like I do every morning? I’ve made a list of his problems. His stomach. His balance. His hearing. His teeth. His vision. On reading it back it makes him sound like a nightmare but he really isn’t.

After my initial visits, I’ll then go to each with dad. We can then try him over a weekend and see what he thinks. If he doesn’t like it, I guess we just try again somewhere else. I now realise that to get the break we want, I’ve left it late and really should have got on with this sooner.

I suppose that the other alternative would be to see if any agency in the area provides care in your own home. Money isn’t a problem. He has a good income even though ten years in a care home previously took away £200 000 of his money. But I worry that someone will leave him in the house alone or they will not respect our home. I’ve always had issues with trusting people.

I have found this very difficult and assume that other carers have gone through the same process. Hopefully it will all work out well.

To be continued!

Dare to Care

I hate to see items on the news about elderly people being abused at the hands of those charged with their care. I know there are so many facets to these stories but the end result is still horrifying. We will all be old one day and who knows how old age will change us? We might be physically fit but mentally unstable or be very much aware but with failing bodies. Whatever fate throws our way, most of us will have to rely on someone in our later years.

As I went through my forties I was determined that I would not care for elderly parents. The whole thought of it filled me with horror. But we change. I watched my father go through the system, paying his way (and in the process using up over £200 000 of his hard earned assets) and watching the gradual decline in the facilities and attention he was given day-by-day. I’ve blogged about this before so won’t repeat myself. Eventually, as he lost weight and became more frail, we took the huge decision to pool resources with him, buy a bigger house and move him in with us. It was an easier decision for me than my husband. I think it is harder to accept an in-law under your roof whereas there is a sort of  sense of ‘duty’ in looking after your own parent.

Naturally, my dad was delighted to live in a real home with family popping in and out all the time, a cat and a dog keeping him company throughout the day, help with personal care and food tailored to his personal taste. As his full-time carer my concerns about the role have been pretty much unfounded. There have been moments of course, but generally things have gone quite well. Probably the hardest part is the feeling of being tied down, checking the clock for mealtimes, not being able to accept invitations from friends and structuring the day around someone else’s needs. There is plenty of support out there if you ask for it and we are lucky that dad is financially secure should we need to buy in some care as his health deteriorates.

We need to think about a holiday but this throws up challenges and lots of ‘what ifs?’  I know it is only right that we have a break but I do worry about what sort of care he will receive while we are away. In my experience, most carers in homes are really good -especially considering the miserable wages they receive.  But it is also my feeling that as hard as they work, many homes do not have enough staff to see to people’s needs and that elderly people often wait a long time for their press of the bell to be answered.

Wherever we choose for dad while we’re away, it has an awful feeling of ‘putting granddad in the kennels’.