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Letter: coping with caring
11 Feb 19
What others don't see you having to live with when an elderly parent develops dementia
Gordon Lennox’s excellent “Blog of the month” (Journal, January 2019, 6: links to this blog) on the stresses and strains of being a carer took me back to my own time as such. As Gordon rightly says, much is made of rights such as maternity/paternity rights, but there is no real cognisance of the issues which carers of, invariably, elderly and infirm parents face daily.
Dementia knows no boundaries and has no social class. My Mum had always been the rock in our family, raising her four children on meagre means whilst Dad worked every hour God sent. We think our parents are indestructible. Mum, sadly, succumbed at 78 to vascular dementia and Alzheimer's disease and deteriorated over the next three years until she died in 2010. During that time the four of us were determined to do everything we could to help her and our Dad; he was bravely trying to cope 24/7 but as an 80 year old it wasn’t fair on him either so we shouldered as much of the strain as we could.
We have to deal with our clients' problems and issues daily, but it seems we are not allowed to have personal issues of our own. No one knows that you got the call saying your mum had gone missing on a cold wet Sunday whilst they were out and Dad had turned his head for a moment. No one knows about the call from a store asking you to come round as your mum was there trying to pay for something with her old Tesco points card, or had been found in a changing room in a state of undress and very confused. No one knows about having to help with personal care. I am not complaining as I would do the very same again if I had to. But it is these situations that only we know about, and we are required by the powers that be to go into our offices, smile and carry on regardless, and if we fall short, woe betide us.
Following Mum’s death it became clear that we had to do everything we could to try and be there for Dad, whose own health was failing. Hospital appointments and stays became the almost weekly norm, meaning time away from the office. Sadly he too fell foul of the dreaded dementia. Having to do a day’s work after being up with a young child during the night is hard. But trying to do a day’s work after being wakened by a call from one of Dad’s neighbours and going over to find him sitting fully dressed at 4am insisting he was taking his car to the garage, or getting the call during a busy day to say your Dad was wandering up towards the railway station and having to drop everything, is very hard to do and also very upsetting – as was having to arrange for a care home and then visit him there, knowing he hated it. In all, as a family, we endured nearly 10 years of caring for our parents.
I know the experiences of Gordon Lennox and myself are not unique, but it is true to say that you don’t know what the person you are dealing with is going through day to day. My experiences have taught me a very salutary lesson not to be too critical of others, accept that people, no matter their job, have their own problems to deal with too, and just cut them some slack.
Nigel W F Ford, Fords Daly Legal, Kirkcaldy