Having a voice…

I was invited by the Alzheimer’s Society to go to the Service Users Review Panel Conference in Manchester here in  England and obviously said yes please.  There were lots of groups represented in the room with both group facilitators and a few people with dementia – PWD.  For those of you who don’t know what these groups are about I shall tell you what they are and about my day.

I belong to the West Berkshire Empowerment Group.  This is a group that meet once a month to discuss and review…just about anything.  Any issues that have any sort of impact on someone living with dementia.  As part of the DEEP – Dementia Engagement Empowerment Project there are around 38 groups in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and more in Scotland.   The groups are made up of people with dementia and a facilitator and is designed for people living with dementia to have a voice in just about anything locally, hopefully to also have an impact nationally.

First of all, I shall admit I was invited to this day – to go to a conference in Manchester and actually I had no idea what it was about or why I was invited.  I get so confused as to each of the Societies, Services, Groups, and Organisations are and whether they are affiliated to each other.    The trouble is one organisation is an umbrella for one topic, which in turn is an umbrella for various groups…and I can’t keep up with it.   So there I am going to a conference that is by the Alzheimer’s Society Organisation and had no idea it was for Service Users Review Panel groups, and then….I had no idea that the West Berkshire Empowerment Group was a Service Users Review Panel.   And, where the hell does DEEP come into it all, who is that affiliated to?  I have dementia for goodness sake I am struggling to keep up with who is who these days…

Anyway, it was a great day in which highlighted lots of work that many of the groups had done and were doing.  For instance, one group has worked with Royal Doulton in producing dementia friendly china ware which is not an insubstantial impact in dementia care.

In our group the West Berkshire Empowerment Group in the past we have given our opinion to research on books/novels specifically published for PWD.  Reviewed electronic gadgets such as key finders.  The group went to the Royal Berkshire Hospital at Reading to look at the signage and our review was passed back to the hospital for improvements.  We suggested a purple wristband for PWD so that they can be easily identified, because we know that many people like myself do not show obvious signs of difficulties, but after an anesthetic we could quite badly affected with confusion.  This has now been approved and the hospital has put this practice in place.  We also look at public transport and whether that is dementia friendly.  The groups also help the local community become dementia friendly.

This conference looked at what format worked for each of the groups, for instance some of the groups were on a 12 month basis only.  Some of that is because of funding.   The group I belong to rolls on and on and on…we have no time limit.   Our facilitator Louise Keane is particular active in ensuring that we have some great issues to discuss and review, and it became apparent to me that her  attitude towards the group is brilliant and makes our group attractive for institutions such as Reading University, and other services to approach us for our opinions.  Thanks Louise!

The opinions that were talked about were being looked at those organising all of the groups and it was quite surprising for me to hear that the lack of support for facilitators was felt by some of the new groups.  But this was a topic and a great one too to be openly discussed: could it be improved and enhanced. For me it was interesting to hear some people say they didn’t feel supported in knowing how to end a group after the 12 months, or how to deal with someone whose dementia had progressed and could no longer take part in any discussion. So it was good this conference highlighted these issues, and for me as a PWD to hear that.   I am sure that training for our facilitators will improve to enable the groups to grow and give us our voices.

It was great to hear how some of the work that the groups had done had impacted not only locally but was being looked at nationally.

It just goes to show how small groups of people with dementia can have such a powerful voice if only given the opportunity to speak.   Anyone living with dementia who wants something more than just pleasurable activities, who would like a voice then I would encourage you to join your local DEEP group.  You can find your nearest group on their website.  Come along its great to be involved and obviously you get a cup of tea!tumblr_mqmztxxppp1rzwv55o1_500

Dementia: Headaches and stuff

19 August 2015
Went to the Doctors yesterday because I am so tired of headaches,     brainday in day out, the pain in my head just won’t go away.   Sounds like cluster headaches but I have no break in them, so possibly migraine the doctor reckons.  She suggested that I try some Amytriptaline at a very small dose at night. However, Boots the Chemist say their suppliers don’t do a lactose free version!  So, I have a conversation about whether they can get any from elsewhere and here is the rub: they use two suppliers who in turn have a range of manufacturers they use, and they don’t make them lactose free…. So I say “can you not find a manufacturer who makes them?” I add “ I can go on the internet and find out who manufactures some and give you the information”. But, what the guy is saying is that if their suppliers do not buy from these manufacturers then, no, they will not get them.

Thanks BOOTS, what a ridiculous situation to put me in!

Maybe I will have to go back to my Doctor and ask her to supply me with a separate prescription so that I can trawl the chemists in the towns trying to find a different one who uses alternative suppliers to BOOTS, in order to find a lactose free version whilst coping with a head that is being ‘drilled’ constantly.

I also talked to her about my mood being up-and-down at present, becoming annoyingly teary throughout the day. It seems the past 6 months has finally caught up with me. My marriage breaking down and leaving my husband, moving home to a new area not knowing anyone and my mother dying, along with the trauma my sister is constantly putting us all through with her constant bizarre and unforgivable behaviour with my Dad.

After a visit from a lovely lady (Alzheimers Support) giving me all sorts of information of what was available for Young people With Dementia, I joined a group for a ’stroll and supper’ at a nearby park. Not knowing the area at all, I planned my bus journey on the net, which stop to get off with a walk across the park to the meeting place. Yes, I felt anxious as I left and found I had forgotten my mobile phone, but ‘not sweating the small stuff’ decided it was not important enough to get it and risk missing the bus.  It was a good night and met some lovely people, but I was excruciatingly aware that I was the only single person there, and this upset me greatly. So, I am going to ask whether it is at all possible to find out if there are other people with dementia who want to meet up as a group singly.

So, all in all struggling a bit at the moment.

Dementia: Witnessing release is a comfort

blue_irises_by_naglets-d2yie11I am watching my Mum slowly succumb to her dementia daily, but it feels like I am seeing it from the inside.  I don’t know how to describe this so you can understand.  I am invisible in a room full of people, Gill has dementia so do we include her or not?  Am I the only one who is experiencing this feeling of when this is my turn, because you may not get dementia.

My Mother’s name was Iris, and like the flower she was a very complex person.

It was Sunday 14th June, our family had somehow managed not to avoid each other and all visited my mother together.  So, my Dad, my Brother and Sister-in-law, Sister and Brother-in-law, nieces and my daughter were in my Mothers room at the nursing home.  The rift in the family growing wider and wider with my sister and her family on one side fighting some bizarre war in her head with us all, and everyone else at ease with each other on the other side.  My Dad torn in two in the middle  My Mum lying between us, her breathing ragged but looking peaceful as she is in her final hours.  She does not seem aware that anyone is with her, but I believe she can hear us all and knows that for the first time in years we are all in the same room together.  We spent the day chatting about our memories, listening to some music, and talking generally amongst ourselves.  My mother may not have appeared conscious enough to join in, but it felt like it was normal family get together with people chatting and laughing and I am sure she was with us.

We had the call later that evening to say she had passed peacefully away at 10.34 pm.  I believe she had waited until we were all together.

I cherish having visited her every day the weeks at the end.  My daughter and I played her favourite hymns on her iPhone and watched her tears.  We played her favourite music and sang along (out of tune but no matter it was fun).

She was no longer able to swallow, so she had no food for weeks, and finally she could no longer have liquids.  Every day the nurse and doctor would say “it won’t be long now, she may pass tonight”, and the next day there she would be defiantly showing she was not ready to go.  Fourteen days she continued without any liquid, and everyone was amazed by her stubbornness, and strength of character to fight to stay with us.

One of the nurses sat down with me and explained how they knew she was not in any pain, at the end I don’t think she was, before I am still not sure.  Her death was natural without any pain relief so I am sure she was aware of her last day with us all.  Yes, I can now see that perhaps it is easier for us to want her to be given pain relief just in case, but then it could have changed her perception of her final hours.  So have I been wrong?    No; my view now is that a small amount of morphine ‘as and when’ may have been better when the sores were painful.  But, then at the end when she had no pain = nothing.

The carers thought she was lucky they said, most people never have visitors.

I designed and created the Order of Service on my laptop, and my brother had it printed up.    We found a poem that my mother had cut out and stuck in her book and I read that at her funeral.  We had no flowers apart from a single spray that lay across the coffin from the family; blue irises and white – roses, chrysanthemums and others.  Instead of flowers my Dad wanted donations to ALZHEIMER’S RESEARCH UK if people wished.   Thank you Dad x

She is gone

You can shed tears that she is gone
Or you can smile because she has lived
You can close your eyes and pray that she will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that she has left

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her
Or you can be full of the love that you shared

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday

You can remember her and only that she is gone
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what she would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

Written: 1981 David Harkins 1959 -Silloth, Cumbria, UK

(This is also the poem that the Queen chose to be read at her mother, the Queen Mother’s funeral which is why my Mum loved it as she was a staunch royalist)

I am glad I had time to make my peace with my Mum, I am glad I had time to sit with her, talk to her and be back in my family.  I am glad I witnessed the end of her dementia, it has left me feeling comforted with my own dementia.

A new chapter with my family now begins.  I need to visit my Dad on a more frequent basis to support him, and do my part in taking care of him to stop my sister from mentally ‘abusing’ him.    This scares me because staying strong and being capable takes more effort than I think people realise.  Still, it’s what we do isn’t it?

Dementia: The question of showing pain

As you know I have Alzheimer’s, I have dementia even if it in the early stages I still have it.  I want to be pro-active in the education of what it is really like to live with dementia in the hope that it helps in understanding how things can be made better for us.

What I am going to write about is my opinion only as someone living with dementia, I am not a professional.

My mother is now in her 9th day without any fluids at all (2 weeks without food).  She is unable to take fluids because her swallowing reflex no longer works.   She has been lying in bed for over a year now in the nursing home with vascular dementia.  She has been compliant, polite and thanks the carers and nurses for all they do for her and they all love her.

A few days ago I was concerned my mother was in pain, she was kicking with her legs.  “She has restless legs” my sister comments, “it’s natural that she is moving them constantly. ”  I am not convinced.  I try to ask her if she is in pain, but she cannot speak other than make a nonsensical sound.  Does that mean yes, or no?  My Dad, sister, brother and sister-in-law are there with me.  They have sat with her far longer than I have and know that she has always moved her legs even though she does not appear to be able to move anything else now.  Still, she looks to me like she is trying to knee my Dad’s arm which is over the bed holding her hand.

The carers have turned her and she is now facing away from me, but she is trying to turn her head to see me.  “Are you in pain Mum” I ask, she makes a noise and I am now convinced that she is.  I go and get the nurse, and she tells us that she has open bleeding pressure sores on her back (her dressing had come off), which is understandable after such a long    time in bed.  I am concerned when the nurse tells me that they give no pain relief for sores other than turning her.  They will turn her every two hours instead of four now.  I don’t understand this at all, later another nurse agrees that she may have a small dose of morphine which will take the edge of the pain of her sores.   The next day the original nurse is on duty and says she does not feel she is in pain because she is not ‘grimacing’ which is how they tell, so she will no longer have any pain relief.

On day 8 and she is non responsive, no movement at all.  She is simply breathing.  My Dad speaks to the Dr who is visiting, and he agrees to speak to the Manager of the nursing home.   Later the Manager comes upstairs to the room and indignantly tells my Dad that my Mum is always given pain relief if she needs it.  My Dad asks how they will know she is in pain, “I am a nurse she says, I can tell because they grimace” – She is leaning forward pointing to herself, her voice very defensive.  My Dad does not have time to reply as she has walked away.  He is so stressed and upset that it is not appropriate to challenge her behaviour in front of him.

My Mother is very very weak and not speaking, or moving, and my Brother who is visiting later is concerned she is in distress and asks for them to give her some pain relief.   They do, but still her face is not ‘grimacing’.  Whilst he was there a nurse did a test to check her responses = yes she responds to pain.

I am incensed.  Why is it such a big deal to give my Mum some palliative pain relief when the nurse tells me that her sores will be painful to her?   The nurse mentioned she will not have a ‘natural’ death if she has full doses of morphine.   I have told my daughter, I do not want a natural death, I do not want to be in any pain.

After 9 days it is inhumane to guess whether my Mother is in pain or not.  The small dose of morphine will not hasten her death but WILL take the edge off any pain from these open sores.

I have tried now several time to talk to them, my Dad has;  my sister is the only person who does not think she is in pain and doesn’t need any relief.  My sister is the only one in the family who has long conversations with all of the staff including the manager about how the rest of the family are against her!   My sister’s behaviour is tearing the family apart and making my Dad ill with stress.

My thoughts are this:   At the end of life is it possible for a dementia patient not to ‘grimace’ when in pain?  I know that the ability to communicate when you are in pain is lost.  I myself often never think to say when I am in pain with my arthritis/fibromyalgia when I see the doctor, I simply forget even if it is what I go for.   I even forget/not think to take pain relief to ease it sometimes.    The Alzheimer’s Org site talks about the family also having some input about discomfort of a person, so how come it appears that a nursing home Manager has the authority to decide whether she is ‘grimacing’.

Remember, this is simply my account and opinion only.

Forget-me-not-Flower-Wallpaper5

(Afternoon) My daughter and I have returned from seeing her in the nursing home.  My sister has said she stopped breathing briefly and then started again.  She has taken my Dad to have his hair cut “You can either go up to see Mum or have your hair cut but we need to hurry because the appointment is in 5 minutes, its up to you”, my Dad desperately needs a haircut so he goes to have it cut.

My Mum’s breathing is erratic, but she is aware that we are with her.  I reminisce with her and stroke her hair.  I talked about her favourite hymn that her mother used to sing to her when she was little and we played it on my daughter’s iPhone to her.  As my Mum is lying still, her breathing ragged and not moving a tears leak from her eye, she is understanding everything she is hearing.   I wish she is out her torment soon.

Dementia: – Warning; an honest reflection of my thoughts about end of life

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I am sharing my thoughts about being with my mother who has had Vascular Dementia for a while and is in the final stages of life, but at the end of her 80’s she has had a reasonably long life.  Some of what I am writing may upset some people, just saying so that you can choose not to read on if you wish.

Yesterday, the family sat around my mother’s bedside in the nursing home.  Each day we are waking up to wait for the phone call to say she may have peacefully passed away but she is defying everyone by staying with us.   This is the third day without any food or drink, however she is not in any pain and looks so peaceful.   Yesterday morning she opened her eyes and looked at my Dad.

“Hello my lovely”, he said.  “What have you got to say to me today?  He is stroking her head and face.  “Is there anything you want to tell me today?” he asks?  “I expect you want to tell me you love me.  I know you can’t talk so just blink if you want to say you love me”  he says gently.  My mother blinks, he tells her he loves her.  I quietly cry to see such a touching scene between them.

After a while, my Dad falls asleep in the chair next to her, at 93 he finds it hard to stay awake for long periods without ‘naps’.   My sister reads her book and I start to read mine, music is playing low in the background; Doris Day, Harry Secombe, Vera Lynn.  It seems like the first time we have just sat there in silence with her.  My brother and sister-in-law will join us in a while.

I watch my mother breathing shallowly, the pulse on the side of her neck beating steadily.  I think about my awful childhood and she was so nice to outsiders but so abusive to myself.  It seems a million years ago and in a very distant part of my life now thankfully.  I made my peace with my Mum when I was able to visit her alone a few weeks together which was needed for both of us I think.

I look at her now and know that at some point my dementia will mean that I shall no longer be able to communicate, or understand what is happening around me.  It makes me feel sad when I am sitting with my family and having these thoughts alone, but then it is not appropriate at all for me to talk to them about how I am feeling.   When I hear the carers and nurses talking about ‘how it is for people with dementia’ I want to tell them not to talk like that.  I want to say, people with dementia are not THEY, they are me, maybe you at some point.  Of course these feelings are ridiculous because nobody can identify with the person lying in the bed at the end of their life with dementia, can they?

My Dad is reluctant to let my Mum go at the same time as dreading it.  We are sitting around her bed and I know that we are willing her to pass peacefully away with us there, and not torment us in the waiting to start grieving.  Does that sound terrible?  A fierce woman, a strong woman, a woman with a will of iron, never afraid to say what she thought.  Never wanted to be overlooked.

The home she is in, is full of lovely caring nurses and carers, most of whom are Eastern European.  They treat my Mum with such love not just kindness.  They tell her they love her, and she has recognised and appreciated that.   My daughter will be the person who will be making sure that I am cared for the same, and I hope that she is diligent in her monitoring of how I am.  Not that I don’t think she will be, but I hope she isn’t too busy to do so.

I have been functioning fine, I have been cleaning, cooking, washing, ironing and taking care of my Dad, but when it comes to organising and making decisions I struggle and leave that to my brother.   I am no longer able to cope with the stress of family difficulties between each other like I used to.  My sister treats me if my dementia is worse, my brother treats me as if I am fine (which is better I guess), and my Dad is probably the only one who understands how I am now and does not expect too much from me.  My daughter thankfully, continues to check on me daily to make sure I am fine as she understands how it all affects me.  But all this is not about me, this time is for family and my Mother.  I just happening to be having my own difficult time of it with a broken marriage, moving to a new area, and coming to terms with my Mother dying.

Thank you my friends for listening to me.

Dementia: Changes afoot

I have been a bit absent of late.  Sorry for that.  Please forgive me if you have commented and I haven’t responded.   Major changes in my life right now.

I have just signed a tenancy agreement for a ‘compact but bijou’ flat in Newbury where I will be moving early next month.

Going it alone.

Have been stressed beyond reason at times, trying to sort out some new accommodation, but have just spent a week of total relaxtion with my daughter in London.  Ok I know that seems an incongruous with peace and calm but trust me it was.    I have made phone calls, sent emails then lost myself in mindless tv programmes on SKY to recover!

Moving to a new town where I know nobody, not even the town itself is quite daunting but is a new adventure for me.   I am moving into Sheltered Housing, to a Studio Flat in a building which is right on a river.  I can see the river from my window so it   is good.  Water is important to me and I happy to be near it.

Today I signed the tenancy agreement, caught a bus into the town and walked around.  Its nice.  I will like it here.  Then in a year’s time I will apply to transfer to another property in London near my daughter.    For now though an hour’s train journey is the closest I can get to be near her.   This is my future.

My sole furniture is:  one recliner chair and stool, an old pine bookcase, an old pine tv table both which I will upcycle with some nice paint.    I have no:  fridge, cooker, bed.    Who cares!

Sometimes things don’t work out the way you wish the would.   Being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s was a major trauma. and not just for me.   There is no point in being angry at people who you thought could cope.  People are individual, some can deal with things like this, some can’t.  No blame.

Now, I am about to try start again.

Next post I will talk about how I have found support and help from the services who promote their services.

Living with Dementia: I am fine, maybe they got it wrong?

I consider myself to be high functioning with my Alzheimer’s.  In fact some days I can almost feel like there is absolutely nothing wrong with me.  I’m ok.  No problem.  Maybe the diagnosis is wrong after all.  Maybe I will continue being ok forever.  Yeah!

Then something happens and it throws me.

Yesterday, I went out.   It was 1:30pm and we went to a marina and I spent a little bit of time alone browsing in the shops.  In the handbag shop I chatted to the assistant about Radley bags, Kipling bags, and I bought a new slimline Kipling purse for my small bag.  I walked around another shop full of pale goods that have no function other than to look pale and interesting.  All very nice, all very expensive.

Next was another marina, I went into the shop and bought chocolate, and then sat on the bench outside to wait and watch the world go by.   On to shopping to get some provisions in.  We walked round the town, into the mall, around some shops, and on to the supermarket.  My fibromyalgia was flaring up, my body was/is screaming with pain, have done some brass polishing on my boat previously.  But, these things have to be done!

We got home at 6:10pm.  I hurt like hell and could barely move.  Took my coat off, dumped shopping in the kitchen, and bent down to take my boots off…………….

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HOW IN THE WORLD DID I MANAGE NOT TO NOTICE THAT!!!   

My first reaction was to laugh hysterically.  Well who wouldn’t.   Then, reality set in.  Fear of not being able to dress properly.  Ok this was not the worst thing in the world but it has ‘rocked my boat’ a bit.