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My Demented Dad: why care homes are not always the best option

When we were told that Mum’s next Christmas would be her last, none of us quite knew what to do. Dad wasn’t coping with Mum at home, but Mum didn’t want to end her days in a Care Home.

I hadn’t had much experience of caring for the elderly at that stage. I only ever really knew one grandparent and, although we saw him often, I was shielded from any discussions about what to do when he started to decline.

In the end Grandpa went into a kind of sheltered accommodation, but not for very long. He died in hospital when I had just turned 20 and my biggest preoccupation was finding a fake fur Cossack style hat for the February funeral.

It’s only now that I realise Mum and Dad must have been going through a very tough time. In fact, more or less what we have been going through these last few years. But I was never privy to the detail, so when it came to imagining my own mum’s end of life care it felt like having to reinvent the wheel.

On one of my many journeys between Glasgow and London I found a discarded woman’s magazine with an advertisement asking boldly ‘Would you like to be looked after in your own home, rather than go into care?’ Well, yes, that’s exactly what Mum wanted and what we wanted for Mum.

I phoned Christies Care, an agency based in Saxmundham in Suffolk, without much expectation that we could afford live-in care, or that they operated in Scotland, or that Mum would really take to it. I was wrong on all counts. The cost of a Christies live-in carer – that’s 24hours a day, 7 days a week - was LESS than the cost of a Care Home.

Dad had enough savings to pay the fees for about 10 months which, according to the geriatric consultant, would easily see Mum out. So we went ahead.

The first of the carers was a lovely middle aged woman from New Zealand with a grown up family of her own.

Beth was one of the many carers who came to look after Mum, and by extension Dad, staying 4-6 weeks at a time before another carer came to relieve them. I didn’t much like the idea of rotating the carers until I realised it gave everyone a break when there was a change-over and, after a few months, we’d see the same faces coming back again and bringing with them renewed energy and stories about their adventures elsewhere. It worked brilliantly and the care was so good that Mum not only lived to see that year’s Christmas, but another four after that. And she died quietly at home, which is what she'd always wanted.

The cost of the live-in care was paid partly by social services and partly by Dad. Once his savings had run out Dad had to borrow more cash, using the house as equity.

He was very reluctant to do this and of course we knew the arguments well. Dad had worked hard all his life, had fought in the Second World War, paid all his National Insurance contributions, owned the house outright after paying off the mortgage and, quite reasonably, thought he would be able to leave something to the kids. It would have been nice. But it wasn’t our money and Mum needed it more than we did.

Equity Release was relatively new in 2005, without quite the same regulations and safeguards that are in place today, but it was the only option we had if Mum was to stay at home. The money was well spent; Mum had exactly what she needed – tailor made one-to-one care, companionship, good food and clean clothes. Knowing that Dad was also benefitting from the company and support meant that Mum was less anxious, in fact not anxious at all; she really rather enjoyed someone else doing all the work for once. And the rest of us could breathe out.

So here we are again.

Six years after Mum died, and almost a decade since we first contacted Christies, we decided to get them back again. We first had to release the last bit of equity in the house to help pay for it but the benefits of live-in care are immense. Dad always has someone with him. The carers we like will come back, and the ones who haven’t been a great success – or who find Scotland too cold – won’t. I have the help I need and someone else to talk to, along with the freedom to go out, or go to London for meetings or even have a holiday. And, crucially, I am able to enjoy my time with Dad without getting too tired or irritable. We now have a much more sociable and companionable relationship. More father and daughter and less Nurse Ratched and patient.

I know it’s not for everyone  - some people are reluctant to share their home with a stranger but the good ones soon become like members of the family  - in fact far better in many ways. It is costly but still cheaper than a Care or Nursing Home and if you have any assets  - savings, a house - you're going to end up paying for care one way or another until that money runs out.

Every time I hear someone say – usually with a sob in their throat and tormented by guilt – that a parent is having to go into Care, I mention the live-in option. And I’m always met with the same response – ‘oh we could never afford that!’ But you’d be surprised, you really would.

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