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.