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Jane’s story: The challenge of living far away from ageing parents

11 December 2019

Christmas is a time for coming together with family and loved ones but that can be hard as those close to us grow older or live further away. Read how one daughter manages during Christmas and the rest of the year.

Christmas is a time when families traditionally get together. I am very lucky! Although I lost my Dad to dementia three years ago, I still have my lovely Mum – a fabulous 94 year old! My Mum and I are extremely close, especially as I am an only child, and we always have a lovely Christmas together – just the two of us. My mother and I live over a hundred miles apart – having days off for Christmas gives me the time to travel and spend quality time with her. However, what about the rest of the year? For many people with ageing parents who live miles away, being able to see them and making sure they are happy, healthy and safe is a real challenge.

I have many friends and peers born in the 1960s and 70s who are facing this issue. We have now reached the age when the tables are turning and rather than our parents supporting us, we now need to offer help and support to our parents. Ideally, we would live minutes away from our Mums and Dads, but many of us left our hometowns to go to university or to get a job and have built new lives, often far away from our parents. It is too simplistic to say, “Just move back” – our lives are too entrenched in the community we live now and it is often logistically impossible. Our children go to school here and their friends (and ours) are here. We perhaps cannot get a job in our hometown and often just cannot afford to move.

Fortunately, I work for Family Action. Knowing my situation, my manager offered me the opportunity to go part-time. This meant I could work Monday to Thursday, and then go to my Mum’s on a Friday through to Sunday. After a couple of months, things settled down and we felt that for me to visit every other weekend would work just as well and it does. We have fallen into a routine of me driving up Friday morning; we do a big shop that will keep mum going for two weeks; I take her to the bank and other appointments such as the opticians and, if the weather is nice, we go out on little trips. We both love musicals and ballet, so there are also visits to the local theatre. Each spring, the week of my Dad’s birthday, we go away on holiday, hiring a mobile home near the coast. I also speak to Mum every day.

However, I know that I am very fortunate, as Mum is able to live on her own. I know many people for whom this is not an option. Their parents are in very poor health – several have parents with dementia and they cannot be left alone. Their options are stark, especially if they do not have the room for a parent to move in with them. Some have had to give up work and move back home. Others pay an extortionate amount for carers to look after their parents or they have had to make the often difficult decision to move their parent(s) into a nursing home.

I am no expert and I do not have the answers. However, from personal experience, I can share some things that have helped Mum and me and maybe some of these things may be of use to others.

Social clubs for older people, especially those that cater for people with dementia?

My hometown is lucky to have a local dementia support group who we contacted after Dad was diagnosed with dementia. They run a twice-weekly club, the Pabulum Café that is a friendly meeting place where those with dementia, their carers and family members can come together to receive support, guidance and information in a relaxed atmosphere. This was a lifeline to my parents. Dementia can be very isolating for everyone involved. The club gave my parents somewhere to go that was friendly and understanding. There were activities for my father to enjoy and it gave my Mum the chance to get together with other carers, to talk and offer each other support. Both my parents made new friends and Mum is still welcomed there and attends regularly. They also organise free transport to and from the club and trips out.

“a friendly meeting place where those with dementia, their carers and family members can come together to receive support, guidance and information in a relaxed atmosphere”

Look into getting a Power of Attorney here. There are two types – an ordinary power of attorney that covers decisions about someone’s financial affairs and is valid while they have mental capacity. It is suitable if your parent needs cover for a temporary period (hospital stay or holiday) or if they find it hard to get out, or want someone to act for them. I have this for my Mum. It means I can do things on her behalf such as go to the bank for her if it’s cold and wet or deal with things for her over the phone such as getting a cheaper deal from her satellite provider.

The second is known as lasting power of attorney (LPA). An LPA covers decisions about someone’s financial affairs, or their health and care. It comes into effect if they lose mental capacity, or if they no longer want to make decisions for themselves. We organised for my Mum and I to have this for my Dad, when he was first diagnosed (with his blessing). We set it up to make sure we could help Dad in the future if and when the day came that he couldn’t act on his own behalf. Thankfully we never had to use it, but it did give us all peace of mind. The forms are complicated to fill in, so we got in touch with Age UK and for a donation (much cheaper than a lawyer), one of their experts came to my parents’ home and went through how to apply and advised us on how to complete the forms.

The internet, social media and phones

Although we hear about ‘silver surfers’ who can whizz around the internet, my Mum is not one of them. Like many people of her generation, computers only became commonplace long after she had retired and she has never used a keyboard in her life. We have tried together, but it is just too tricky for her. With so many companies and organisations only operating online – from paying bills to sorting out problems, this can be a nightmare. By having power of attorney I can deal with these on her behalf. Although she is not confident with emailing and texting etc, Mum has an android phone that she finds much easier to use than a traditional mobile phone or landline. I have inputted all the telephone numbers she needs and she can phone people at the touch of a button. She also has a tablet and I have downloaded Facebook for her. She doesn’t post herself, but loves reading posts and seeing photos from me and wider family members and friends. It keeps her in touch with what is going on and she doesn’t feel isolated. I have also downloaded some games and colouring apps for her, which she loves.

Carers and attendance allowance: use Age UK’s useful benefits calculator tool here. Find out more about Attendance Allowance here. Whilst Dad was alive, we applied for attendance allowance for my Dad, (there is also a carer’s allowance) and now Mum is on her own, her personal health circumstances qualify her for her own attendance allowance. We found this really worth looking into as the money made and does make a real difference. It means my Mum can afford to pay for a taxi to take her to her regular GP and hospital appointments, if I can’t take her. Again someone from Age UK came and helped us complete the forms.

The British Legion. My parents’ local branch of the British Legion offer a service to ex-forces members where they come round and will do small odd jobs for a donation. My father was in the army (he always remembered his rank and number, even at the end of his life!). This was so useful as they helped out with small jobs that were beyond my capabilities, such as mending the loft cover catch and sorting out a new letterbox.

Personal alarm

My Mum has a personal alarm that she wears around her neck. It provides a service for a small monthly fee. If she has a fall, she presses the button and the service will call a neighbour and me straight away to alert us. This really gives us peace of mind, knowing that if she does have a fall she will be able to get help immediately. My mother uses an Appello personal alarm, but there are several different versions on the market.

Get a cleaner and or gardener!

After much persuasion, I finally managed to convince Mum to have a cleaner albeit only twice a month to help with the heavier housework! This doesn’t cost much, but it makes the world of difference. Mum is very house proud and I would worry about her overdoing it when I wasn’t around. Mum loves spending time in her garden and she now has someone mow the lawn and do the more arduous jobs, while she can do the smaller, more enjoyable little bits of gardening.

Last, but not least – good neighbours

My mum has wonderful neighbours and friends nearby and I know that not everyone is so lucky. I cannot emphasise how important it is for me to know they are keeping an eye on her and will ring me if something has happened and I can ring them if I am worried. Mum is a little unsteady on her feet, and cannot go out on her own as she has mobility issues, but her lovely friends and neighbours take her out when I am not around or will pick up a pint of milk for her and people are always popping in for a cup of tea.

I began this piece by saying how lucky I felt to still have my Mum around and I mean it. I now get to spend more time with her than I have since I left home at 18 and we have become even closer. We do a lot of talking and I have learnt so much about her life before I was born and our family and social history. We laugh a lot and our ‘debates’ about the issues of the day can get quite heated.

Christmas is a special time. It is just the two of us now, but we always raise a glass to Dad and share the happy memories we have of him. We also enjoy that we can do what we want – we have chicken instead of a turkey, we have trifle rather than Christmas pudding (I may be bias, but my Mum makes the best trifle in the world) and NO Brussel sprouts! We then spend the day sitting on the sofa together watching musicals and reruns of Agatha Christie dramas – our favourites! I can truly say that I love our time together and I cherish every minute.

Do you care for an elderly relative or friend like Jane, share your experiences using #MyFamilyMonsters