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Falls and frustrations

I enjoyed the recent, witty, rueful correspondence in the Daily Telegraph about the age or stage at which you stop “falling over” and start “having falls”. I’m inclined to think the change takes place when you can no longer get up. But it’s all academic and doesn’t make much difference what you call it. In recent weeks Ms Alzheimer’s – or one of her pals – has firmly shoved My Loved One into the “having falls” category.

During the last month he has, as I have detailed, fallen in our younger son’s house and almost severed his ear lobe, gone headlong in our own garden and broken a finger, slipped getting out of the shower and knocked me over (it would seem we even share bruises these days) and fallen a second time in the garden and grazed his arm. Yesterday I came downstairs to find him distressed on the dining room floor, apparently unhurt but quite unable to help lever himself up. Thank goodness for the family WhatsApp group. GD1, who’s training as a nurse, made some very helpful suggestions. In the end I went next door where Ben (not his real name) lives with his partner and his feisty, 94 year old Granny whom they look after. Thank goodness he was in. Not only did he drop everything to help me get MLO off the floor but he gave me his mobile in case of future problems. “If I’m not here I can ring my uncle up the road and he’ll come down” he said. I was almost weeping with gratitude by the time he went back to his Granny.

The worrying thing about all this, of course, is that we are presumably at serious risk of a much worse fall any minute. And it’s pretty hard to prevent because you can’t reason with someone into whom Ms A’s claws are so deeply embedded. I can say until I’m hoarse with repetition: “Now just sit there and look at the papers/listen to the radio [substitute as appropriate] while I go and make the bed” but within a few seconds he’s forgotten what I said and is on his feet shambling about. Part of the problem, I think, is that he’s suddenly – for no physical reason I can fathom – become very hunched. He’s now inclined to shuffle, head and arms toward the ground like a very slow, sick gorilla. It’s not, as I keep trying to explain to him and failing, how human beings are supposed to walk. It means the centre of gravity is awry and he’s inclined to tumble forward.

So he now really has to be watched almost continuously. I am – and this is a first – writing this blog on my iPad sitting next to him at the table so I can keep an eye on him as I type. It is no longer safe, other than when I know he’s resting horizontal or late at night when I’ve got him to bed, to leave him unsupervised even for a few minutes. Realistically I can no longer repair to my upstairs office where all my things are and where I feel instantly in work mode.

Yes – before you ask the obvious question – the local NHS “Falls Service” have been notified of our predicament. An occupational therapist is coming from there later this week to assess him and make some suggestions about safety. Well, our elder son has already put in ramps and a second stair rail. And while I was away a couple of months ago, he sensibly put some grab rails up. He knew I’d protest so he just did it as a fait accompli in my absence and he was right. The OT will probably “prescribe” more and I’m not looking forward to her visit. I’m torn between trying to be sensible and caring and agreeing to the “desecration” of the house I’ve worked so hard to get as I want it –  and how I like it –  over the last three years since we downsized from Kent.

It is clearly time for more “help” too although I know I shall loathe the intrusiveness of it. I’m in the process of applying for one of those dreaded “social services packages” to supplement the care I’m already paying for to cover my absence when I’m out working. Even the doctor at at the emergency care clinic last week was surprised that I have no official help – and that was a bit telling.

A lot is said and written about maintaining the independence and autonomy of people with Alzheimer’s and similar conditions. One hears much less about the independence of the carer. It now costs me a substantial sum in “man-sitting” fees every time I leave the house and now, it seems, I can’t even exercise my freedom to go where I want, when I want, within the house. As I often say to anyone who’ll listen: All I have ever really wanted to do is to carry on working. And I get really frustrated when circumstances make that so difficult because work is my lifeline. Nothing to do with money – it’s what keeps me sane.

 

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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