Sara Viner talks about the heartbreak of having to put her 96-year-old mother into care during the pandemic, and the processes they had to go through.
“After mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2019 we agreed that we would keep her in her beloved home for as long as possible. As the months passed we were able to find carers to help out, and everything was on an even keel. But then in April 2020 my mum’s behaviour began to change again. I spent a lot of time staying with her, but got increasingly worried when she was there alone. I installed cameras and found watching her really upsetting, but necessary for her safety. I could call her to calm her if she looked agitated, or phone a neighbour to help while we drove to mum’s house from our home.
“Mum would get distressed, had panic attacks and lost the ability to do straightforward daily chores. She would call strangers in to help her and started to have minor hallucinations, so with agreement from my four siblings we made the sad decision to move mum to a residential home.
“My husband and I had a good idea of the care homes nearby as we had researched them when his father was diagnosed with Lewy Body dementia two years previously. We were lucky to be able to visit the homes then, but this time round it was very different with the restrictions imposed due to the pandemic.
“We chose the home for many reasons; the package they offered was inclusive of all the extras: hairdressers, chiropodist, newspaper, Sky TV and her own telephone. They also had a bar for residents which we knew mum would love! We were allowed in to see a ‘sample’ room, following strict Covid regulations, and although we couldn’t have access to any other part of the home we still felt it was a very positive and caring atmosphere. The rest of the admission process was conducted via email, video links, and phone calls. Mum had no part in the process, we felt it would have been far too upsetting for her.
“The day we took mum to to the care home we were met outside at the arranged time; the staff greeted mum and without any fuss we all had our temperatures taken. Then we were asked to wear masks, aprons and gloves. We took mum via the gardens to her suite, and were allowed to stay for about an hour, again we had no access to any other part of the home. We told mum she was there for a respite period as we were going on holiday. She accepted that at the time.
“Mum then had to endure a 14-day isolation period. She was very upset and confused. She wanted to go home; she accused me of dumping her there to rot, it was a horrible time. The staff spent a lot of time with her and we were encouraged to phone her regularly.
“Once the isolation period was over we were allowed to visit, but again under Covid restrictions. So mum sits on a verandah with one of the carers, we have our temperatures taken, then sit behind a small wall, wearing masks, and only stay for 30 minutes. So not really conducive to a pleasant visit. Mum gets so upset that I can’t sit with her, that I can’t see her rooms, and the masks confuse her so by the time we leave she’s upset and tearful. We also have one 30-minute zoom meeting each week. I prefer those as there are no masks!
“The staff assure us that mum’s days inside the home are busy and she is happy, so we take some comfort in that. They have a Facebook page which we can follow, and they regularly email with news about mum.
“I wish I could say mum is happy, but all she really wants is to go back to her home. She wants to see me and the family regularly, she doesn’t understand the pandemic, she feels abandoned. But we know she is cared for and she is safe.
“Unfortunately she had a short stay in hospital after a fall; her treatment there has really affected her, and of course she was back in isolation for another 14 days. She is still not back to her normal, determined self.
“We are in the process of selling mum’s home to enable us to fund her future care fees. We have had the “12-week disregard” funding from the council, that has covered half of the weekly fee for the 12 weeks. This is a grant to tide you over until the property is sold.
“Thinking of the events of this year I feel I left mum’s move just a little too late. I was so determined to keep her at home, which she was also so desperate to do.
“Choosing a home at this time is very difficult as we all want to see the facilities on offer firsthand. We asked loads of questions, we asked for video footage of the rooms available so we could choose for mum. They happily discussed mum’s dietary requirements (she’s vegetarian). We chatted about changing her GP to their one, future medical care and how many trained nursing staff they employed. We asked about activities provided while the residents are in lockdown, so we gradually built up a positive picture of life there.
“If and when the restrictions are lifted we all look forward to unlimited visiting, taking mum out with no worries of isolation periods, the hairdresser being allowed in the home, and outings resumed. It’ll be a different and welcome life for the residents who have endured this terrible time of being cut off from family and friends.”