Wednesday 31 October 2007

phone call from the warden

The Warden rang me up this afternoon to talk about Mum. It seems that several other residents at the block have 'expressed concern' or outright complained about Mum recently.

Mum has been ringing doorbells and knocking on peoples' doors at or before 7am.

4 residents have recently noticed Mum's electric hob turned on full with papers stacked upon it and have complained that she represents a fire risk to them.

Although Mum received her delivered meal at noon, she was found cooking 4 of her recent delivery of frozen meals about 1pm. As is her way, unfortunately, she was grilling the plastic packages rather than using the oven, and three were melted around the food. She was discovered eating her fourth attempt, which she had grilled to a lesser extent and which was therefore under-cooked.

Apparently, Mum hasn't been outside for some time now and her dog is defecating and urinating on the carpet because it's not getting out.

Finally, Mum was talking nonsense this afternoon about how she'd spoken to my Sister, who was going to visit her tomorrow. My Sister hasn't spoken to Mum in years and lives in the Middle East.

The Warden told me that he thought the time had come for Mum to be relocated to a safer environment.

I arranged, immediately, for an Electrician to visit and isolate the power supply to Mum's cooker and hob. He's going to visit on Friday afternoon. I then spoke to the Mental Health team that have been visiting Mum recently, but the person I spoke to said that Mum had enough savings to disqualify her from assisted care and that the Health Department was not allowed to recommend private care facilities down there. I'm going to have to start visiting places up here in the North, I think.

I'm about to speak to Mum about all this. Not really looking forward to it...

Thursday 25 October 2007


Mum's tone of voice is one she uses when she's delighted with herself for having done something that proves her independence. Inevitably, these days, this means she's done something that I then have to spend a day or two rescuing her from, so I find the tone far from encouraging.

"I just thought I'd ring you to tell you about this book I've got.... it's called 'Farm Foods' and it's got all these meals in it and you can order them and they come frozen and you can get deserts and they do smaller portions if you want..."

Mum is very excitedly telling me about a brochure for the same frozen meal service she has been using since February. She has picked up the brochure from a display in the communal lobby of the flats. As far as Mum's concerned this is an entirely new concept and she's thrilled. I feel wretched explaining to her that this isn't, actually, anything new and, in fact, one reason I arranged the meals-on-wheels service for her is that she proved unable to heat these frozen meals satisfactorily. As often is the case nowadays, Mum treats this as if I'm making it up just to annoy her.

all change

A call from the Warden this morning with a list of concerns.

He'd had to visit Mum to ask her to stop taking toilet rolls from the guest facilities in the block (the cleaner had caught her). While he was with her, Mum showed him a massive order of frozen meals she was completing and announced that she'd cancelled the Meals-on-Wheels service. Then she asked him the date, so that she could write the cheque out. The Warden looked around and noticed that the "Calendar Clock" I'd bought was gone from the mantelpiece. Mum told him that she thought it looked better in the spare bedroom, a room she rarely visits.

I'm going to have to be careful following this up, since I don't want to implicate the Warden as my source, so I'll have to keep asking Mum how she's enjoying her delivered meals. It could be that she completely fabricated this story about cancelling them to justify the large order of frozen meals (Mum loves spending money over the phone). I'll also have to engineer a situation where I ask her what day of the week it is, to "discover" that the clock isn't in view.

Finally, the Warden returned to the toilet roll issue and mentioned that Mum had placed a telephone order with the supermarket down the road, and that they'd be delivering later. I was curious about this, as I know that you need to spend over £20 to get a delivery, but the Warden said that Mum "doesn't go out these days" and hasn't left the building for over a week. I guess that's why she's stealing toilet rolls from the hallway and possibly why she's ordering in frozen food.

What's going on?

Monday 22 October 2007

new photo

I took this picture on one of my recent visits to Mum. We went out for a restaurant meal almost every day I was there, and here we were in Pizza Express, where Mum discovered she REALLY liked the "Nostrana" salad. Her enthusiasm was almost alarming. It was like watching a starving person eat. But then, that's not far from the truth. It was only on this visit that I realised how poorly Mum was feeding herself, her fridge empty save for a few yoghurt pots and margarine tubs both out of date by several months. She was getting by on a diet of breakfast cereal and chocolate bars. Occasionally she was heating up a frozen meal, but she was unable to follow the cooking instructions and, in any case, used the grill setting on her oven. This was the reason I started up the meals-on-wheels deliveries. Mum rings me up regularly to say how much she loves them, especially the desserts.

nuisance calls

Mum's Warden rang me this morning. He'd been contacted by the woman who comes to cut and set Mum's hair every Wednesday - I'll call her "V". V rang him today in some distress because of calls she's been getting from Mum. Apparently this has been going on for some time, with Mum ringing several times a day, asking V when she's going to arrive. Typically, this starts on Thursday, the day after she's seen Mum. V has been very patient and understanding up until now, but the calls have started to come around 6am recently, and today Mum rang her at 3:15am.

I called V and apologised on Mum's behalf and gave her my home number in case she ever needed to contact me. I was midway through offering to pay the monthly charge to have Mum's phone number blocked when I realised that there was an easier way to deal with this. I rang Mum and asked her to find V's number.

"Yes, I'm expecting her now... I don't know where she's got to."
"Mum, what day does V come to you?"
" she comes on a Wednesday."
"And what day is it today?"
"It's.... er.... I think it's Tuesday?"
"Mum, go and look at the clock I bought you."

After we'd established what day it was and found V's number in Mum's address book, I asked Mum to scribble over the number until it was illegible. I then explained why we had done that. Mum admitted that she called V often. I told her about the early morning calls, which she tried to deny. Oddly, she seemed more upset about the calls at 6am than the one at 3. I made several attempts to explain that 3am was even worse than 6 though I'm not sure if Mum took this onboard.

I remember a TV drama about Alzheimer's back in the 80s, where an old lady took to vacuuming her lawn in the early hours of the morning. Thankfully, Mum isn't likely to do any housework or gardening, but it seems that she's capable of making the night-for-day mistake. Looking at the phone bill I posted on here a few days ago, I can see that some of the directory enquiry calls were in the early hours. It seems we've reached another milestone in Mum's decline.

Sunday 21 October 2007


I'm such a twit. It has taken me this long to realise that what I should do is print out several sheets of sticky labels with my address on them and mail them down to Mum. That would prevent a lot of frustration on both sides whenever Mum has to send something up to me, and it means I don't keep posting the same story over and over on this blog.

Now I just need to work out how to do that on my home printer....

circle in a spiral 2

Sunday morning. 8 am. The phone by my bed rings.
"I just got this envelope in the post and it says 'HM Revenue & Customs'.... etc"

I don't bother pointing out to Mum that it's Sunday and that she couldn't have received it today and didn't need to call at 8am. I talk her through writing out yet another envelope addressed to me. I've just finished the postcode when she replaces the receiver. No 'thank you', no 'good bye'.

I call back and point this out to her. Mum takes my criticism on board and says that she'll say 'good bye' in future. The line goes dead as she puts the phone down.

I'm not letting this go. I ring back again. I tell her that she just did it again. She insists that she said 'good bye'. I suggest we try it again and she agrees.

I hear the phone go down and the line goes dead.

Saturday 20 October 2007

circle in a spiral

I decide to ring Mum, as I didn't hear from her yesterday.
"Hi Mum"
As usual these days, Mum doesn't say hello back but just launches into the conversation.
"Yes,  I got this envelope yesterday...PAYE payment enquiry... and so I rang them and they said I needed to speak to [the company who pay Mum's pension]"
"Hold on.... what's this envelope?"
"It really flummoxed me."
"Well, why didn't you ring me before ringing them?"
"I don't know."
I ask Mum to read the letter to me. She begins at the top and slowly reads each line of the sender's address, then her own, then a jumble of code letters and numerals. She ends there, sounding satisfied.
"Mum. I'm sure there's more to the letter than that. What flummoxed you?"
"Oh!" she exclaims, suddenly realising that the letter is folded and there's more below.
It seems like a standard reply to the Tax Return I completed for Mum recently. It says that they've received it and calculated that she over-paid by a small amount last year.

I ask Mum to post this letter up to me for my records. Mum sounds quite unhappy at the task ahead of her. She asks for my address and I slowly dictate it to her. I then ask her to find a blank envelope and write it out now while she still remembers the task. I remind her where the envelopes are.

A few minutes later, the phone rings. Mum has found an envelope and wants to know my address. I dictate it slowly to her again. I ask if she's put the letter inside the envelope yet.
"What letter? I'm not writing a letter, am I?"

I remind her about the letter from the Revenue. She says she can't find it. I ask her to look for it. 

Five minutes later she rings me saying, "I've got the first line of  your address, but can you give me the code?"
I dictate my address for the third time. I ask if she found the letter yet. There is silence on the other end of the line, then a sigh. Without a good bye the receiver clatters down and I'm cut off.

Friday 19 October 2007

phone bill

I've mentioned this in passing before, but here's a scan of one page from a phone bill I found at Mum's place. I found lots in her papers just like this. In June, it seems, she was not phoning anyone except for premium rate catalogues and (several times a day) directory enquiries. When I asked her if there was a number that she kept forgetting, she answered that she rang to find out the time or just to have someone to speak to. I find this desperately sad.

Tuesday 16 October 2007

little things

I've commented before that it's sometimes the little things, rather than the big crises, that send me over the edge. In a crisis I find myself becoming very calm and detached, and I can think clearly about what needs to be done and in what order.

In contrast, despite the multiple frustrations of today, the thing that finally made me explode was that Mum kept jamming the phone down without saying "Good bye". She's not very accurate replacing the receiver, so I prefer some warning that the conversation is over before my ears are assaulted by the extremely loud clatter of Mum slamming the thing down in several attempts.

After the umpteenth time, I called her back and told her off about it. I feel pretty guilty about being angry with her. But she'll have forgotten any upset in the time it's taken me to type this, so I need to let it go.

the sims

I've never played "The Sims" but I imagine if you had a malfunctioning version of the game it would feel like today did for me, instructing Mum remotely by phone. This weekend Mum found a cheque, lost it, had to be told to look for it, had no memory it, rang the bank instead of looking for it but couldn't recall what she was ringing about, wandered off mid-call leaving the phone on and me calling out... and so on.

Today, the Warden was back on duty and I asked him to help Mum look through the pile of papers on her table. Some time later, Mum rang me to tell me that she'd found something from the Revenue but she wasn't sure what it was. After several attempts to describe it, I was fairly certain it was the cheque, so I sent her off to the Bank to put it into her account.

I rang Mum's Bank, later, and they told me that Mum had been there quite a lot recently, as she doesn't remember her PIN correctly and has to come into the Bank to get cash instead. They're mailing out a fresh reminder to her. Interestingly, Mum's version of this was "They've stopped my account, so I'm opening a new one," which would have given me a heart attack if I hadn't known what was behind it. Meantime we've spent the rest of the day hunting for Mum's Bank debit card, which she announced was missing. At first I'd be calling every half-hour to find that Mum wasn't looking because she'd forgotten it was missing, then I'd get a slew of calls every 2 minutes with Mum announcing what was in each pocket of each coat, or telling me that she'd tried to ring the Bank about it, or angrily telling me that she NEVER puts the card anywhere but her purse (I've experienced otherwise). Finally, just now at 6pm Mum found the card on her table under the slush pile.

I've spent the whole day breaking down 2 simple tasks and making sure Mum did them. I've not left my desk, I've not eaten since breakfast. I don't think I'd enjoy "The Sims".

Sunday 14 October 2007

birthday girl

Mum rang me at 8 this morning (I really should go to bed earlier than 4 on a Saturday night, or at least turn my phones off). She was stressing about the cheque that arrived yesterday, which she's now mislaid. I told her to wait until Monday and ask the Warden to help her find it. She said, "He's not here today," which was my point so I let it go.

Then I got a call during which I happened to ask her what she was going to eat today and Mum told me that the meals-on-wheels people had stopped coming some time ago. Now I know that they don't deliver on weekends, so it's most likely that all is as it should be, but it's one more thing for me to investigate on Monday. For the meantime I let it go.

Just now, I got another call in which Mum proudly announced that she'd just heard from the guy who's going to install her new shower (I'd had to intervene earlier this week because she called "Mr O" twice, both times inviting him to take on the job even though he's already agreed and the work is booked in for next month). Mum told me that Mr O had told her today that work would be starting on September 27th.
I didn't let it go.
I questioned the date. She confirmed it. 
I asked her what date it was today. She didn't know. 
I reminded her that it was her birthday and she eventually came up with October 14th. 
"So it's October 14th today and work is starting on September 27th?"
"Do you understand why that can't be?"
"....... No?"

We're more than half-way through the day now.

Happy Birthday, Mum.

Saturday 13 October 2007


Mum rang this morning to read out a letter that had arrived from the Inland Revenue. It took her 10 attempts before I could work out that this was a refund with a cheque attached at the bottom (Mum couldn't see it until I suggested it might be there). I told her to take it to the Bank on Monday, but I've got a hunch she'll post it up to me instead.

It's Mum's Birthday tomorrow and I'm dealing with the tri-annual (Birthday/ Christmas/ Mother's Day) confusion of working out whose gift is whose. Today some flowers arrived which sound like mine from Mum's description, but mine were meant to come with a small box of chocolates. Mum was munching on chocolates this morning, but said they were from a much larger and branded box that sounds more like my Brother-in-Law's gift. Mum only remembers one delivery, so I'm left with a familiar conundrum.

As usual, I'm having to accept Mum's enthusiasm for the flowers as an implicit "Thank You". It's funny remembering my childhood and Mum standing over us to force us to write our "Thank You" letters on the day - now she doesn't even think to say the words.

Friday 12 October 2007

occupational therapist

Minutes after the Warden's worrying news (see last post), I got a call from the Occupational Therapist who visited Mum this week. She had a long list of concerns which she wanted to get through before hearing mine (all I could think about was Mum walking on the bypass). Many of the concerns were about Mum's walking, which is very unsteady. She observed that Mum supports herself inside the flat by holding onto furniture and walls, launching herself across a room only when necessary, like when she needs to lurch into the Kitchen. The OT couldn't get Mum to consider a Zimmer frame, but is arranging a Physio consultation and is instituting a trolley for Mum to wheel her tray of food in from the Kitchen to the Living Room. We talked about ways of helping Mum with the bath, although given that the bath is being removed next month to be replaced by a walk-in shower, this would be a short-term fix. The OT pressed me to arrange a pendant alarm for Mum to wear, and expressed concern about her use of the electric hob (the one she has left hot before with items stacked on it).

Since the call, I've asked the Warden to turn the hob off at the wall (there wasn't a fuse to remove, unfortunately) and roll up the various rugs in Mum's apartment. I'm looking into various options with the pendant alarms. I've also got to make up a card for Mum to carry in her purse with my phone number on it, so that anyone who finds Mum wandering can call me.


Mum was found wandering on the bypass outside her village yesterday. A motorist stopped and brought her home. She was quite bewildered and unable to recall why she'd walked there. The Warden has done some sleuthing and traced her steps. It seems that she went to the hardware store to buy some light bulbs. At the till, she failed to enter the correct PIN for her debit card, so she told them that she'd go and get some cash from the bank across the street. Mum didn't make it to the bank - for some reason she took a left and kept walking until she ran out of pavement and continued on the grass verge.

This is a worrying development. And it's not something I can bring up with Mum either, since I don't officially know about it and I don't want to have her start hiding things from the Warden. She is sounding all bright and cheerful today and I'll bet she has no memory of this incident.

Friday 5 October 2007

comings and goings

I call Mum. For a change, the phone hardly rings once before she answers it.
"Hi Mum."
"I'll tell you what has happened. The dog's been sick and it's red. I think there's blood in it. So I've rung the Vet and she's coming out."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Where was she sick?"
"On the carpet."
"I mean where in the flat?"
It turns out that the dog puked right by the phone. That's why Mum didn't take 15 rings to answer.
"Anyway, I must go and get my coat on if I'm going to get down there..."
"Mum, didn't you just say that the Vet was coming out to you?"
"Oh yes, that's right."
"Are you sure now?"
"Yes!"[angry]"Yes, she's coming out to see the dog here!"
I tell her I'll get off the phone and leave her to tend to the dog.

10 minutes later, on a hunch, I decide to call the Warden. He tells me that Mum told him the same - that the Vet was coming out. Then, a few minutes later, Mum passed his office on her way to the Vet's surgery. After a short period, Mum was back, explaining that she'd got as far as the surgery before realising that she'd gone down without the dog...

The Warden reckons that it's any deviation from usual routine that throws Mum.

ADDENDUM: Mum ended up taking the dog down to the Vets, after all. She called me back 10 minutes ago to tell me that she had some tablets for the dog and that she'd been instructed to feed her on fish. When I asked Mum how and when she was meant to administer the pills (having had SO much trouble scheduling her own), she couldn't tell me. So I rang the surgery, who gave me a more complicated picture. Firstly the dog is to be starved tonight. The pills Mum has are to start tomorrow night. Meantime, over the weekend, Mum is to give her bland food such as chicken or fish. Also, there are 2 further sets of pills which Mum failed to take with her on her way out which she is meant to start tonight. I put down the phone feeling somewhat depressed at the task ahead of me. I rang Mum and dictated the instructions slowly, but when I asked her to read them back to me she was unable to read her own handwriting. So, I've sent her down to the surgery again and asked them to write out a set for her. I feel really bad about it, but I think I may try not to get involved any further. It seems a hopeless regimen for Mum to follow. It was excruciating and depressing coaxing her through taking 2 anti-biotics a day for herself. THIS is beyond possibility.

ADDENDUM 2: Evidently, the Vet has begun to understand the problem. Mum forgot to return to the surgery that day, despite another reminder. The next day, the Vet gave the dog an injection that would suffice in place of the 3 prescribed medications. Once again, I'm glad that those around Mum are finally recognising the problem - if they're trying to think of easier ways to deal with things then there'll be less I need to manage over the phone, and consequently fewer frustrating tearful conversations.

Thursday 4 October 2007

community psychiatric nurse

Mum had a visit from a Community Psychiatric Nurse yesterday. I had a phone conversation with her before she visited Mum, where I panicked trying to recall 5 years of desperate concerns all at once. She then called today to give me her impressions.

It's a bit perverse of me, but I exhaled with relief to hear that Mum had proved "quite confused". But it means so much to know that this situation is now being recognised by other people. Apparently, Mum didn't score badly enough on her test to cross a particular threshold (possibly for drug treatment - I'm a little vague on the details), but the Nurse was still concerned, based upon Mum's conversation before and after the test. She has decided to re-visit Mum in a couple of weeks and meantime send an Occupational Therapist to visit Mum. the Therapist may be able to suggest ways for Mum to cope better with her daily activities, or put her in touch with services that will help care for her.

Wednesday 3 October 2007

days of our lives

I've bought a clock for Mum which shows her the day of the week, the month and year. It's made by "Karlsson" and seems to be available at a range of prices from £65 to £145, depending on where you shop online (be aware that it's also available in super-size). Mum's clock sits on her mantelpiece, though I'm sure it's more of a wall-clock. I did look at an LCD clock with a digital display at half the price, but it wasn't so attractive and I wasn't confident that Mum would be able to tell the time, being of an analogue generation. Mum seems highly pleased with the clock, and I've been asking her what day it is each time I've phoned, in an effort to get her accustomed to looking at it.

ADDENDUM (March 2008) - I was frustrated when Mum moved this clock into her spare bedroom soon after. Now that I've inherited it, I think I understand why. Be warned that it makes a VERY loud whirring noise at least a couple of times a day, which always catches me unawares and makes me jump.