dEAr diary ~ thoughts on growing old

Having mum to stay for a few days has certainly made me think about old age and its effects upon a person and those caring for them.  She has become so limited in what she can do recently that it seems to have had a snowball effect – that old saying ‘one thing causes another’ problem.  Her mobility now is certainly more limited and she is not getting out and about like she did other than with my sister and so is becoming increasingly anxious, a bit lonely and quite fed up with herself.   What you might call out of sorts.   She keeps saying things like ‘when I get back to normal’ or ‘when I get myself right’ but my experience is that with the elderly they never do it is an inevitable downward slope.

It looks like everything began last September when mum thought her vertigo had returned as she was constantly dizzy.  However, the wait to be seen by the consultant in the vertigo clinic was a few weeks and in December it turns out it was a bit of a misdiagnosis by the GP and her blood pressure, a shortage of B vitamins and potassium was the actual cause.  The additional blood pressure tablets prescribed to lower her sky-high blood pressure worked only too well and caused it to drop too low throwing her into a zombie like state and we had to revive her once or twice!

They are trying to get it sorted but in the meantime she caught a rather nasty virus after Christmas and has developed Housemaids knee when she was kneeling on a chair to have her hair front washed at the hairdressers as she could not tilt her head backwards over the basin without becoming extremely dizzy.  So now she is hobbling about in constant pain but that is sometimes because she won’t rest it and refuses to use a walking stick.

Her confidence to go out by herself diminished very quickly along with her ability to cook a decent meal for herself replacing them with quick snacks.  She has suddenly become much more reliant on my sister and her DH who live nearby –  requiring escorting to the hairdressers and shops, things she did for herself that kept her active.  She would like our presence all the time but of course that is not possible.  If I am honest I am feeling a little trapped between helping my mum and helping with my 3 grandchildren and although we love my mum her constant demands are becoming a bit of a strain on us.  As she does less and less now for herself she likes to be taken out to tea shops and cafes – the ones in garden centres and shopping malls and whilst having a drink and a bite to eat she will tell us the same old stories of things that happened years ago over and over again, often in the same day.  In fact her memory of the past is better than that of the present but she gets the people and time of events rather mixed up and forgets you have heard that story many times.  It is not quite dementia but it is very annoying to those who have to listen.

I live two hours away from them and cannot offer much relief on a regular basis but I go up as often as I can and have mum here to stay.  It has reached the point now that when my sister says she might be going away for a weekend or holiday mum suddenly panics at being alone.  She lives in a retirement apartment that has a manager on call during office hours and this reverts to a call centre at night so if she were in difficulties help would be on hand,  but like many elderly people they do not like to use the service preferring instead to be attended to by a relative.

In the past I have looked after my gran and my dad through many years of their decline and one thing that is apparent to me is that having good health is key in old age.  Learning to look after yourself and eating well is a must because as soon as you start with any medical intervention you end up on numerous tablets and often this is quite a cocktail that triggers yet another complaint.

My dad’s demise started when he was in his early seventies and in pretty good health;  a consultant prescribed aspirin for his eye that was showing signs of a condition called macular degeneration.  The consultant ignored dad’s medical history (dad had a condition where he bled a lot called Von Willebrand disease) and we questioned the wisdom of this but were told it was necessary to help with the circulation in his eye and protect it from the degeneration.  Of course dad was worried about the possibility of losing his sight so took the Aspirin as prescribed.

A few months later the aspirin caused a serious bleed in the artery to his good eye which left him with partial blindness.  The loss of blood from this (4 pints which bled from his nose and required an emergency operation to stop him bleeding to death) also resulted in a blood transfusion.  A few days later his body reacted to the transfusion and turned against itself causing the destruction of his platelets which dropped considerably to a dangerous level (normally about 150,000 to 450,000 per mcl of blood) dad’s went down to 2,000 a condition called Thrombocytopenia.   He was rushed into hospital again and to rectify this he had steroids (they didn’t work), then immunoglobulin by drip (worked for a few days only then they dropped again) and finally the last resort to stop his body from destroying his platelets he had to have his spleen removed and was put on antibiotics for life as you require protection from infection. He was at this point told to stop the Aspirin!

Because he had little immunity he had to have vaccinations against pneumonia but even with these he constantly suffered with this.  At one time he saw the GP as he felt unwell and had extremely noisy and laboured breathing but the GP did not pick up on the pneumonia and thought he might have the beginnings of heart failure – a few days later dad became far worse so I called an ambulance as I knew something was not right.  They got oxygen to him immediately and once stabilised took him straight to hospital.  They told me if I had left him for another half an hour they would not have been able to save him.  After two weeks bed rest in hospital he came out as good as new – no heart failure after all, just pneumonia.

The following year he had a fall breaking his hip, shoulder and foot.  They could not operate straight away as once again they found he had underlying pneumonia which had no doubt made him weak and caused the fall.  Whilst waiting for the pneumonia to subside enough to operate he was given high doses of pain killers and then anti-sickness for the effects of the pain killers.  He became delirious with all the drugs and his kidneys could not cope with the overload of medication and began to fail.  Within two weeks of the fall he had died of kidney failure.

…. And all that because he was prescribed a little Aspirin.

My mum has gone from being on one tablet for blood pressure to a cocktail of tablets including Aspirin and statins.  Of course I worry.  She seems unsteady and a bit confused a lot of the time and is so frustrated at feeling unwell, her blood pressure seems to be all over the place and her knee and foot swollen and not getting any better.  She is certainly in decline and she was doing so well for 93 it is a shame that she has had so many problems recently.

A study conducted by the University College London showed that happy and positive people are more robust and fit in later life.  The research concluded that unhappy people were twice as likely to develop diabetes, heart disease, cancer and stroke.  Mum is certainly not happy at the moment and I feel powerless to help her get better when her problems seem to be compounding.

My own observations of people growing older tell me I need to address my own niggling health issues and put my diet and fitness way up on top of my list of intentions to act upon, as prevention of illness seems far better than hoping for a cure.  I do not wish to end up on a cocktail of medications other than the Thyroxine I am reliant on.  I have always taken my own health issues in hand preferring to use natural remedies wherever possible and only resorting to medical intervention if it is absolutely necessary.

As I age I am finding I am a little creakier in the mornings, my brain works a little slower and my digestion not as tolerant.  This must be the time to sort this out as old age is so hard without good health on your side and once that starts to decline it is like a runaway train.

13 thoughts on “dEAr diary ~ thoughts on growing old

  1. I think about these things all the time as my parents age. I know it is hard for them to give up activities they like, and to start new health behaviours they don’t like! And they are so stubborn about it! Of course when I am old I will see what needs to be done and do it without complaint, hahaha! I was sorry to hear about your dad’s misdiagnosis and rapid decline. You are a great support for your mum.

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  2. It is so difficult to witness the gradual decline of a loved one. The support you and your sister give is wonderful and will make a huge difference to your mum. The reluctance to accept help, other than from a relative, is commonplace and yet, once received, can make a huge difference to all involved. Age UK have a wealth of information and advice available on this. I hope between you, you are able to work something out to make things easier for you all.

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  3. Facing similar issues with my mother-in-law. Don’t know what’s worse: mental decline or physical.

    Certainly makes me too think about my own elderly age and what I will pre-plan and set up. I hope I don’t become an annoyance that causes guilt for my kids.

    The medical cocktails are such a problem. They extend lives in most cases but they also cause medicinal poisoning and, as you father suffered, related episodes that hasten decline and death.

    I hope to be able to access assisted death.

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  4. The cascade of events that led to your father’s death was tragic and I can really understand the stress you are feeling with your mothers recent decline. My mother was in a dreadful state after my fathers death last summer. They had begun to eat very poorly as my father was no longer able to do the shopping regularly. This led to constant diarrhoea which was finally diagnosed as severe diverticula disease. This gradually got better as we introduced a healthy diet. Statins had been prescribed but the dose was too high and this led to severe depression which righted itself when the statins were discontinued. However it was the loneliness that was the main problem. Finding the right home for Mum was key. She now lives in a flat where she has independence but it is part of an assisted living facility where she has the opportunity to socialise and carers if she should need them. I feel that the burden of worry has been lifted off my shoulders. Mum is happy and we are too.
    I hope you are able to resolve this and liftthe strain off your sister and yourself because that alone cannot be good for you.

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  5. I can relate to so much of what you have written. My MIL died in November aged 93. She was fit and well until 2 years before her death, then had falls, repeated pneumonia, urine infections, and vitamin deficiencies. In the end she died of pneumonia, kidney failure and sepsis.
    My own mother was 80 in November and despite being fit and well ( she takes no medication and still does her own decorating), barely leaves the house under her own steam, and now that my uncle is dead, doesn’t speak to anyone but me, as she has alienated everyone else. I feel so responsible for her. That makes me feel resentful, as she isn’t the nicest of people, and I’ve had to think about her needs and wants since my Dad died when I was 29. I’m now almost the same age that he was when he died, and that, along with my sister-in-law’s recent death at the same age as me, has compounded the fact that life is short, and I feel trapped; not doing what I want, and being stuck between a rock and a hard place as my husband wants to move to another county.

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  6. Hi, Having been in hospital recently I was introduced to a Shampoo Cap! Never new such a thing existed – wondered if this might help your mother until she feels able to return to the hairdresser – I found it invaluable! I have no desire to push purchases from them but I got from A…on! T

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  7. Your love and concern for your mother is palpable and so is your fear for the changes in her and what it means, not just for her, but for your sister, you and the rest of your family. The role of medications in the downfall of the aged is something I worry about. It occurred in my family, so the story you tell of your father’s decline is familiar and devastatingly sad. Blood pressure meds, in particular, are tricky and too often prescribed at dosages far beyond the ability of the very elderly to metabolize. As with most drugs, far too many dosages have been established based on middle-aged men–not elderly women–another whole discussion in itself. If the statin is a recent addition, I would have to wonder why at her age they would think this is at all appropriate. Hope that you can have a frank discussion with her GP on these medications.

    As for her eating habits, I wonder if there is anything like Meals on Wheels that might bring her a healthy meal once a day and provide some brief, but gentle interaction with others. Of course, none of this truly relieves the psychic burden you are feeling as you watch your mother’s health and welfare decline. It is heartbreaking and I sincerely wish you the best as you try to navigate what this means for her and for you and the family.

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  8. I can totally relate to this post. I’ve just read it in the 10 spare minutes I’ve got before going off to pick up my 85 year old mum (who broke her hip last year so can’t get out on her own anymore) to take her to visit my 85 year old dad who is in care as he has severe dementia. Although we are visiting him today he won’t know who we are or that we have even been. Like you, I feel I’m that middle-aged woman who is caught between the wants and needs of grandchildren and elderly parents and it’s really hard going! I can’t afford not to work so still work full-time as well as doing a lot of caring so it doesn’t leave much time for me. Of course, while all this is going on my own life is passing by. I guess that as people live longer the numbers of people (often women) in our situation will only increase.

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  9. Reading through this post I realise why I will not go to the doctor unless I am on my last legs. Like you I have had experience through my husband of drugs issued to help but actually did harm. Tom has ipf a lung disease and I am convinced that this has been bought on by the Ramipril that he took for 20 year on the advice of another ‘consultant’. It clearly states on google that these pills can cause lung disease. I feel for you worrying about your Mum and getting old is not fun but I think there are umpteen people walking around taking drugs that are not necessary.
    Hugs Briony
    x

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  10. It sounds very similar to my own parents and we often talk about ‘wearing out’. They have always been very positive, healthy, take care of themselves people which is perhaps one reason why they have both reached 90 and beyond. But you can’t roll back the years and 90 is longer than the average lifespan in anyone’s book.
    It’s tricky, isn’t it, this battle between need and independance. Somehow, family helping is not giving up independence in the same way as asking an agency. And, as family, saying ‘no’ is so hard.
    There isn’t an easy answer and knowing that it is a time-limited situation doesn’t help in the least!
    Sending understanding vibes. xxx

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  11. I am so torn. Pharmaceuticals can be ‘wonder drugs’ but we have also had the others. Anti-inflammatory withdrawn as some patients died, BP pills that caused asthma. Husband has a daunting long list. And I have just started using BP pills. Sigh.
    I should sleep.

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  12. Wow,this has stuck a very resounding warning bell!I’ve observed that my very fit 87 year old father eats better than I do.
    I have been diagnosed with a chronic condition and the drugs are very necessary;I have promised to myself to make my health a priority.
    I’m sorry about your mum,the dangers of seclusion are as bad as physical ailments.A more enlightened GP? Worth a go

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  13. It’s hard watching people grow old and more needy. Bill spends Thursday and Saturday looking after his mum each week. she is 94, still in her own home and in reasonable health. She has people in to look after her too, which is why it’s possible for her to be in her own home, but lately a few new problems have arisen, so who knows how long she will be there for. I hope forever. She has a form of dementia. She can regale stories of her time at The Savoy, and talk of her parents, but ask her what she’s just had to eat and she’ll tell you nothing, because she doesn’t know. Violet has gone with Bill today, but that’s not always the best thing. she gets tired, muddled, and angry.

    Your post is beautifully written, and beautifully honest. xx

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