Richard Burt was determined to care for his mum when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. But, when it became clear she wasn’t safe living by herself, he was relieved to find a cheerful, quality care home to ease the burden.
Richard recalls – nine years back – the first alarming sign of his mum’s dementia, when she was 85. Frustrated she couldn’t work the smart new vacuum cleaner, she pulled it to pieces to clean it.
His mum, Peggy, a widow, lived alone in the modest family home in North Shropshire. Richard, who was 55, married with grown-up children and semi-retired, dutifully drove the hour and a half to visit her every few days.
Richard says with pride: “Mum was a tough and determined Scouser who served in the Women’s Army during the war. She was fiercely independent. The family gave her a bicycle for her 80th birthday and she would ride all over the village.
Early signs of dementia
“It came as a real shock when she started getting lost. Then she started taking her medical prescriptions to the bank and when she wheeled her bicycle into the doctor’s surgery he contacted me and said ‘It’s time for a talk’.
“They did some tests and told me she had Alzheimer’s. My mum and I are very close. Neither of us had any idea what that meant – we thought we could manage… but that was blissful ignorance.”
Richard was tearful with the memory of the loss of the capable mother he admired and adored. He says the decline was gradual through the stages of early, mid to late onset of the relentless brain disease.
I wanted to care for her all by myself
When she was first diagnosed, Richard thought: “If anyone is going to look after mum, it will be me. She looked after me in difficult times in my life and gave me unconditional love and support, which I appreciated. So it was a natural thing for me to care for her.”
However Richard’s varied career as a local government councillor, running his own business, being in the fire service, and stints as a press photographer and teacher didn’t prepare him for the challenging role of primary carer.
“I didn’t realise what would be involved. I didn’t have a clue really, about the journey of dementia. The person fundamentally changes in their mood, mental capacity their reactions and emotions. Every person living with dementia is affected differently.”
Initially reluctant to place his feisty mum in a care home, he opted instead to move her into a rented cottage in a rural village closer to his home. However, that proved traumatic.
“Everything she knew about managing her home of 20 years was wiped out. She was lost and helpless in her new surroundings and overwhelmed with distress.”
Richard felt helpless himself and reached out for support through home care services and Dementia UK’s Admiral Nurses – for whom he later went on to raise £25,000 by taking part in an enormous cycling challenge.
Why I opted for a care home
Peggy remained living independently for five and half years before the crunch came.
Concern for her safety was the catalyst for moving into a care home. She started putting the electric kettle on the stove and the iron on the carpet.
Now, at the grand age of 94, Peggy is enjoying life at a care home in Kings Norton in Birmingham.
“There’s such a sense of relief when you finally give up the reins of being the sole carer and realise there is proper, professional care available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Now, Richard and Peggy couldn’t be happier. “It’s been brilliant since mum moved here. The culture is warm and personable, and the senior carers set a high standard – it’s mum’s home and she’s very content here.”
Richard’s advice for finding a care home
Richard advises family members to do their research, starting with reading the Care Quality Commission (CQC) reports, visiting several care homes and trusting their instincts. “Look for good-quality care with committed, cheerful staff, nice facilities, a stimulating activities programme and additional support services.”
And be sure to have open, friendly communication between the triangle of staff, the resident (your loved one) and the family.
Richard’s positive experience has dispelled all negative preconceptions about care homes.
“You can build a comfortable home and a new family for your loved one and you can be part of it. I’ve adopted a larger family. There are 12 other residents I visit every day and it’s not just for their benefit. I have benefitted enormously from seeing them and the supportive team caring for them. I find being upbeat, sociable, having a joke and a laugh, and being helpful and concerned comes naturally to me with older people; and I get a deep fulfilment out of my visits.
“Mum doesn’t know much anymore but all our little jokes together, along with the kind care home team, make her life pleasant and contented.
“We have real quality time together again, taking part in activities and chatting. I hug her and hold her hand and she loves that. She feels cared for and loved.”