Many of you kind, thoughtful friends have been asking about my mum and I’ve been thinking about doing this post for a while now.
This time last year, my mum was still defiantly independent, but I kept getting calls while at the gym, from all sorts of local GP surgeries and pharmacies. My mum had taken to occupying their premises and demanding her medication for asthma, blood pressure and arthritis. She has always denied having dementia and needing to take medication for it. She would refuse to leave their premises unless they gave her what she wanted and would often ask strangers for lifts home.
After discussion with her doctor’s surgery, we had decided that I should take over responsibility for ensuring that she received the correct quantities of the correct medication. A Social Worker came and assessed her needs and, with my help, in spite of mum’s screams, took away all the old medicines that mum had hoarded in her flat.
It was at this point that I thought that the social services would step in and help but it turned out that the request for help was never referred by the GP surgery. It was only when I took my mum for a routine flu jab in November that the practice nurse queried and discovered the request, still not actioned.
My mum had started to go downhill quite fast and I was taking regular phone calls from the block manager of her flats about her inconsiderate, disruptive behaviour. It was clear that she had become very isolated by the other residents in the block. This situation could not go on longer but I was at a loss about what to do.
I investigated a local Alzheimer’s Society day centre, but Mum refused point blank to go there. She had her routine and her freedom and she was going to stick to it. It was this resolve that made me hesitate: full-time residential care was a radical step and I was not sure I could impose it on her or, indeed, that she was quite at that stage. It’s a huge decision to make on someone else’s behalf, if they are not capable of any reasonable discussion. Culturally, we pour scorn on people who “put their elderly relatives in a home.” I did not want to be one of those reviled people. So I dithered.
Nonetheless, I started talking to people with relatives in dementia care homes. Many people have asked me whether I could have investigated one of the “Asian” care homes that have been around for a few years. But that would have been like taking an elderly, frail English lady who was losing her command of Spanish at her home in Spain and putting her into a care home in France. “Indian” is not all the same language. Most Indian people in London speak Punjabi or Gujarati. The care facilities in these places meet the demands of those communities, rather than the small, dispersed Maharashtrian community here. North London simply was not an option. So what next?
So here we are, the day after my mum’s 80th birthday. She has no concept of a birthday. She didn’t remember it when I took round a card last year and I didn’t send her a card this year. No-one mentioned it at home. Was it so easy to forget?
I felt guilty, that I was not there with her, to mark this day with a woman who no longer has any concept of time. But I was deeply, deeply touched when I received yesterday’s photo by email this morning. Wasn’t it nice of the staff to dress mum in a splendid red sari? Wasn’t it nice of them to bother? Yes. I think she is in the right place.