As a post-war baby boomer I was brought up and taught by my mother to speak only when I as spoken to, not to answer back and generally to respect my elders as it was implied that they were wiser and had more experience than me. I now know that wisdom does not necessarily come with old(er) age, especially when the senior person has dementia.
Our concerns and worries for our mother are constantly being raised. Within the last fortnight she has been to hospital twice: the first time she was diagnosed with a UTI and sent home with antibiotics, but within 72 hours she had been readmitted. This time she was found to have a chest infection and remained under the care of the NHS for a further three days. Prior to these diagnoses she had been having problems with balance and had been experiencing light-headedness and dizzy spells, which were a huge cause for concern as she has had countless falls over the past 16 months since breaking her hip. On some days we were told that she had been using her Careline emergency bracelet button to summon help as many as twelve times in a twenty-four hour period. Given that she lives alone and that we are both about 15 miles away, which can translate to a driving time of between 40 minutes and up to two or more hours, we are both on high alert. Especially as an ambulance, when summoned, can take up to four hours to attend to her.
Whilst she was in hospital my sister and I were hoping to persuade her to move to a residential home, if not permanently, at least for a week or two. Our belief was that she might lose track of time and be happy to remain in the home we had found, especially as they were happy to take her precious cat Millie. Our optimism was soon dashed by her intransigence. When my sister visited her the day before her discharge she constantly told everybody within earshot that ‘I want to go home now’. We both arrived at the hospital the following day, hoping beyond hope that we could get her to agree to go directly there by ambulance. No way. My mother always gets her own way, and that meant she was going nowhere but home.
Her Friday afternoon/evening discharge was followed by a weekend when her care package was increased to four visits a day and her two knackered daughters refrained from visiting until the following Monday to liaise with her social worker. Although her dementia seems to have increased and she now confuses timescales, insisting that she had been an inpatient for three or four weeks, plus she also seems to be behaving in a more childlike and naive manner, she was still assessed as having the capacity to decide where she will live. At least in her own home she is at liberty to smoke as much as she likes. On the ward she kept repeating that they allowed her to smoke both by her bed and in the toilet. No matter how many times we and the nurses told her it was not allowed, especially as she had an oxygen cylinder next to her bed, she maintained that she had been smoking with permission during the weeks of her stay.
So from now and until she loses that capacity she remains home alone (with four daily visits from her carers, plus about three weekly visits from us) with her cat. She believes she can summon help from Careline whenever needed, although we have tried to make her understand that all they can do is request an ambulance if one is needed. We have also pointed out that if she persists in demanding the paramedics she will be downgraded to non priority and will have to wait up to four hours before they arrive. How would you feel if your frail, octogenarian parent had to lie on the floor unattended for all that time?
Whilst out shopping on Saturday afternoon I took a phone call from Careline (the company that my mum buzzes through to when she needs help or has a fall). They told me that she was having difficulty getting out of her chair and had asked for assistance. I explained that it would probably take about an hour to drive across London and by the time I got to her home her carer would be due to make her afternoon visit. Sometime later my sister phoned to tell me that the carer was very concerned as our mum was feeling dizzy. So I packed a small bag and headed out, unprepared for the traffic jam, which did nothing to alleviate my worries.
On arriving at mum’s I found her in bed and it took us four attempts, at intervals of a few minutes between them, for her to be able to stand and keep her balance. Whilst she was resting before the fourth effort I dialled 999 and requested an ambulance. Once she was up and seated in her armchair, which seemed like an extra long walk with the Zimmer frame as far as she was concerned, she seemed fine and we chatted about the past. In the meantime my sister also phoned back to tell me she was leaving her friend’s house (in Hampshire) and wondered whether she should also come over. She decided she would and arrived before the ambulance, which turned up nearly four hours after I had placed the original phone call. I’m not casting aspersions or complaining as I made it clear that it wasn’t an emergency visit, but that I believed mum needed to be seen by professionals. I knew it was fruitless to try to contact a locum via her GP’s surgery. From experience I know that a doctor would be reluctant to make a house call, even for a disabled octogenarian, and would try to persuade us to take her to the hospital. Has said medical person ever met my intransigent, stubborn, single-minded mother?
The paramedics were absolutely fantastic. They tried to calm two stressed not-so-young daughters, explained how we should try to look at things from mum’s point of view and not our own. Pointed out that she probably had mental capability (which they later confirmed was true) and reinforced the stress awareness training, which I am currently undergoing. The upshot is that if she wants to remain at home, whatever the risks, she has every right to stay there. She has no idea how we worry and anticipate the worst (another aspect of my workshop that I am trying to put into practice). Do not project your fears onto events that you cannot control and that may or may not happen.
They eventually turned their attention to a sleeping mother, who reacted by telling the two of us to go home and leave her alone. She even suggested that we be locked away in the ambulance. Finally she agreed to be taken to A&E, with my sister driving behind the paramedics. I was so tired that I was unable to go anywhere, so agreed to remain behind and cat sit for my mum’s beloved Millie. So around 1am I crawled into mum’s bed and tried to sleep. Would you be able to close your eyes for long under the circumstances? The flat is like a sauna, and the temperature must hover around the high 20s, even in the summer. Every time I dozed I was woken by something: the rain, sounds of other people entering the block, the cat jumping in and out of the window. I seemed to be checking the clock every hour until my sister phoned around 7am to tell me that they were coming home.
Once back she informed me that mum had been diagnosed with another UTI and this could possibly be affecting her blood pressure. Although mum’s is always on the low side, it was not adapting when she raised herself to her feet, causing the dizzy spells. They have also recommended that her doctor refers her for a CT scan, just to assess her brain activity.
So two women finally left their mother in bed at around 9.30am yesterday morning and drove to their respective homes, bleary eyed and concerned for their mother’s safety. We will still try to persuade her (very gently, no bullying or cajoling) of the merits of a residential home where there will be somebody to care for her round the clock. Is this for her own benefit and safety or is it so that we can drop our vigilance and stress levels? Who can say? I’m sure I worry far more about her now than I did about my children when they were growing up.