When a loved one starts to show signs of dementia it can be a challenging and stressful time for relatives. Here, Melisa Westwood, the daughter of Patricia Winney, one of our wonderful residents at St Katherine’s House care home kindly shares with us her emotional story.
Mum has always been loving, caring, and supportive. She was my friend and my confidant. A devoted housewife, a keen gardener, and the best cook I knew. She doted on her three daughters, their families, and her latest dog Millie. I was very close to her and a day rarely went by when we didn’t speak or meet up.
Shortly before Christmas 2018, we lost my Dad. Mum suffered the grief you’d expect of anyone who’d been married for 50 years. She coped well but around a year later, something wasn’t right, she’d changed, she wasn’t the Mum I once knew. I tried to shrug it off but as her actions became more and more uncharacteristic, I gradually felt the need to watch her every move. Without realising it, I’d become her daily carer.
The first signs of dementia
I often blamed the bereavement process andF found myself thinking “I mean she’s just lost her husband, her life, she may have just forgotten, let’s see how she is tomorrow.” But days turned to weeks, to months and on reflection, her behaviour deteriorated quite rapidly. Perhaps, even now, I wonder if my Dad had been masking some of her behaviours.
She was difficult to predict and seemed to have forgotten the basic needs and responsibilities of a grown-up. She forgot how to cook for herself, slept erratically, didn’t wash or change her clothes, and felt it acceptable to contact us and neighbours during the middle of the night and early hours.
At times it almost felt deliberate, like she was trying to get my attention. Was it a cry for help? I asked her what was going on but there was little conversation and she felt it was normal. We spoke with a doctor who prescribed anti-depressants and injections for a vitamin deficiency. But I felt there was something more to it.
From that moment, my life was on edge all the time. Waiting for an unsociable visit, phone call, or worse, a call from the police. Even a dog bark or text notification would make me anxious.
You would cling on for a glimmer of hope, she’d have managed to reheat herself something that you had pre-prepared her. Later I’d find out that she’d just eaten packets of crisps and discarded what we had brought. She genuinely seemed to forget what to do or how to cook.
Dealing with a diagnosis of dementia
The months leading to her diagnosis of vascular dementia were very tough. It’s a painstakingly long process with no real definitive answer that you hope someone will come up with.
You lay awake with worry every night, what she might be doing, or is going to do next and you fear for their safety. Then there’s the more practical side, where can we go from here?
You question everything and it doesn’t seem real. And the rest of life doesn’t give you a break either.
As many families will understand, we lead busy lives.
Life doesn’t slow down for you to accommodate this disease.
Life doesn’t stop for the needs of your own family.
Of course, if I had a list of options or even an east wing attached to my house I’d have had her move-in in a heartbeat but frankly speaking, she didn’t feel like my Mum anymore and I began to question if I even felt safe. It was horrible and uncomfortable.
It came to a point where I was exhausting myself and our family. I couldn’t help her anymore, what could I do? I needed help and so did she.
Finding the right care
Struggling to find a solution, we arranged to meet with Seung Ping, the Care Home Manager at St Katherine’s House. We were both exhausted, physically and mentally, completely at our wits’ end but when we spoke to Seung Ping it felt like the weight was beginning to lift from our shoulders.
At last, someone was listening and might recognise what we had been going through, someone might know the sort of care my Mum needed.
Seung put us in touch with Gold Care Homes’ Customer Relationship Manager, Victoria Sives, who provided us with great support and arranged a room at the home. Mum could even bring her dog and personalise her room just like a home from home. After just a few day visits and seeing the way Seung’s caring nature put Mum at ease we knew it was the right choice. Mum has now been staying at St Katherine’s full-time for just over a year, having moved in literally the week before the first national lockdown last year.
It doesn’t even bear thinking about how things might have gone otherwise.
Whilst it was difficult to close a chapter of Mum’s life, it has allowed her to create a new one, with some of the old Mum coming back. To see her smile is all we need.
My Mum’s dementia has affected the entire family and while Covid prevented us from seeing her at times, it has been the safest and best move for her and ourselves. The team at St. Katherine’s House have done everything and more to ensure the home remains a safe environment for the staff and residents. I cannot thank the staff enough for how they have managed the pandemic. It really does appear to be the safest and happiest bubble to be in. The thing I love about St Katherine’s House is that it lets people be themselves. Living with dementia in society is frightening but within the safe environment of St Katherine’s House, it’s like a community, everyone’s accepted.
Enjoying life whilst living with dementia
Mum has never seemed happier. She now can get involved with lots of different activities with a range of wonderful characters and carers. If she forgets anything, she has the team on hand, and, in reality, it doesn’t matter what she tries to get up to anymore. We can let her be and accept her for how she is, living with this terrible condition.
We too can now live our lives, without worry, safe in the knowledge that she is close by, she has friends, she can have a dance, is well fed, well cared for, and looked after. We can’t ask for any more than that.
Your Care Options
If you need help supporting a loved one living with dementia, Gold Care Homes offers a range of care choices, be it residential or respite care, across its 22 homes. To find a Gold Care Home near you visit https://www.goldcarehomes.com/our-homes/ email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01895 257 010.