I’m back from an uber depressing visit to see my folks. At the start of this year I rather thought this might well be my mum’s last. While Alzheimer’s doesn’t kill you, the effects weaken the system to such an extent that you just fade away. My mother’s now just skin and bones, papery skin at that which easily bruises or becomes sore from her long periods of inactivity. Conversely, this makes her easier to manage for my father.
Her day starts at around 11 o’clock when the carers – paid for by my father – arrive to wake, wash and dress my mother. This is an easier task in the morning as she’s rather more docile. When I say dress, she spends her days in a dressing gown sitting in a wheel chair. She’s lost the ability to walk. This means you don’t now have to constantly follow her around. She sits uncomprehending, eyes half closed for some time before she eats her breakfast. My father usually feeds her: it’s quicker and a lot less messy. She likes highly flavoured cold jelly or yoghurt followed by buttered bread with marmalade. Some days she eats well, other days she doesn’t. You can’t force her. Same goes with liquids. She usually consumes a highly calorific fruit drink but like as not she’ll throw it over herself, you or the floor.
Her ability to talk is much diminished and most of what she says is totally unintelligible though she’ll still come out with the odd word we can understand. Her inability to communicate verbally means she’s more likely to lash out, bang on the table or spit at you to attract attention. So far I seem to be the only family member to escape her attentions. Both my sisters and father have not been so lucky. I like to think it’s because at some level my mother knows I’m not someone to be trifled with but that might be wishful thinking.
My father is endlessly patient with her, as are her carers all of whom seem genuinely fond of her. They’re back at 6:30pm in the evening to put her to bed. This is generally a more difficult exercise than getting her up but she tires easily and, after a bit of a struggle, soon falls asleep. The large lounge at the back of the house has been transformed into my parents bedroom although Mum sleeps on her own in a low bed with a special mattress to reduce the likelihood of bed sores.
The local health service have just offered my Dad a bit of a lifeline, someone to sit with my mother for an hour a day. She cannot ever be left on her own and indeed doesn’t like it if you’re out of view even for a few minutes. However, he can split the seven hours a week as he wishes. So he’s elected to have five hours on a Friday afternoon and two hours on Monday. The latter will allow him time to shop and stock up after the week end, while the former will give him a decent break. He has help on Tuesdays and Thursdays from his cleaning lady plus my sister and brother-in-law at the week ends. This way he should get a bit of a break most days.
My sisters are looking after my mother for a few days this coming week allowing my Dad to have a short holiday with my brother in law in Torquay. It’s not much but it is something of a lifeline for him. It’s very generous of them as they’ll be tied to the house for the entire period, not without its challenges, and the time will pass very slowly. After all, there’s only so much day time tv you can stomach. I’m sorry to admit that two days is my limit and I wouldn’t contemplate taking on my mother for more than a few hours.