When Cathy’s Mum was admitted onto a general ward, she was concerned the staff would be unable to offer the flexible care someone with dementia needs
My mother, Rachel, was admitted via a clinic to a liver ward with pain-free jaundice caused by an obstruction. She was also suffering with medium stage Alzheimer’s.
My mother presented well and could communicate, laugh, joke and had no behavioural problems sometimes associated with her level of dementia.
However, she was also likely to forget conversations, not be able to find the toilet, not remember where she was or why she was there. She could be scared and bewildered, bored and fed up. Rachel was a lifelong voracious reader, but she could no longer process the words in a book and no longer had the concentration to watch a TV programme.
I was a nurse before I became a full time carer of my mum, as well as a single parent. So on the ward I could sit with her, reassure her, wash and dress her, sit in on conversations with medical staff and then explain what was said to her as many times as she needed. My face was truly the only one she could recognise anymore and just my presence reassured her as she trusted in me totally.
Decisions were hard for Rachel. Choosing a sandwich or which colour lipstick to put on could be too much for her, she needed some decisions to be made for her without taking her control away. Patience was always needed as any sign of impatience seemed to shut her down and rendered her unable to cope.
We were lucky that the ward soon realised how helpful having me there was and the hostility and confusion of staff that I’d noticed at the start of the admission soon dissipated. My situation was unique though, not all carers can be there and often use a hospitalisation as respite.
My family relieved me at visiting hours so I could go home and check on the rest of my family. We lived like this for a full week until Rachel was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Then we were given a side room and the whole family were allowed to come and go as needed. This enabled us to set up a 24 hour vigil of family carers so she never had to be alone again.
The flexibility and understanding shown by the staff meant the hospital admission was not as stressful for my mother as it could have been. Sometimes it’s difficult to find the time to be patient and flexible when working on a busy ward, but when caring for someone with dementia on a general ward, these are essential attributes. I am so grateful the staff were able to see this and adapt the situation to meet my mother’s individual needs.
Rachel died on 11th March 2013. She had peace and dignity in her last few days thanks to the NHS.