Understanding ambiguous loss in families of people with dementia

couple in the shadowPatsy said she had her eye on Bill from the first day she started working at the glass factory in December 1958. He was the tall and muscular foreman on the factory floor, and the son of the factory’s owner. Patsy was one of the new typists in the typing pool. Despite many a flirtatious glance between them, it was months before Bill asked her out to the movies. Instead of icecream or popcorn, he had bought her a bunch of dark red grapes. But as they had not been washed, she let them rest on her lap while they watched Ben Hur. She was in awe of Charlton Heston, and fancied Bill looked a lot like him. They hit it off immediately, going to the dance hall every Saturday night and the movies on Friday nights. They married in the Spring of 1960.

Patsy and Bill have since had 54 happy years together. They have two children and four grandchildren and have always been inseparable. “Best friends” is how Patsy described their relationship. “As a family, we did everything together: sailing in the summer, skiiing in the winter.” When the factory was sold many years later, Bill began to import leather goods from Italy, and the family travelled to Italy together every year to source new supplies.

Patsy’s voice is flat and she speaks matter-of-factly. “The man I married is gone, but my husband is still here. He is withdrawn and sleeps a lot of the time, and doesn’t talk much. There are moments when I have him back, but they are brief and rare. I miss the way we were.”

Continue reading

Posted in 2014 Blog Posts, Dementia, October 2014 | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Caring for ageing parents: a career limiting move?

The cost to your career to care for an ageing parent is often unexpected one.

Caring for an ageing parent can come at a cost to your career.

Women face a host of challenges throughout their career, but caring for ageing parents, for most, is an unexpected one.

The women’s liberation movement opened the door to a huge growth of mothers in the workforce over the last few decades. But its care for ageing parents that is going to be the next big thing for career women – driven by the slow tsunami of an ageing population.

The availability of formal child care and after school care have enabled mothers to overcome barriers to pursuing a career. But just when the years of raising children are almost over, and the upper rungs of the corporate ladder are within sight, an often unexpected caring responsibility arrives: caring for ageing parents.

Elder care is an issue we all will face. Not everyone choses to have children, but everyone has parents. The number of elderly people needing care is not small. Those aged over 85 years (420,300 in 2012) are going to double in the next 20 years.

People who have elder care responsibilities feel less supervisory support for their needs compared to workers with child care responsibilities, according to University of Rhode Island researchers presenting at a recent Work and Family Researchers Network Conference.

Their research also shows that workers caring for ageing parents also report higher levels of stress, overwork and work-life conflict than workers caring for children.

Caring for an ageing parent differs from raising children in that it is less predictable because a parent can suddenly need a lot of assistance over a longer period of time.

Modern medicine and medical innovations are helping people live into their 80s but inevitably, they will need support when their health starts to decline.

The ABS says that 1 in 3 workers are caring for ageing parents, and that figure is growing, with 45 per cent of workers anticipating taking on elder care responsibilities in the next five years.

Overwhelmingly, it is women who bear the cost of caring for their parents as they age.

Continue reading

Posted in 2014 Blog Posts | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Malnutrition silently killing our elders

No one likes  to eat alone.

No one likes to eat alone. Go join him Ellen!

Malnutrition conjures up images of starving children in Africa. But it’s a common issue and closer to home here in Australia than you think.

Unbelievable as it may sound, according to the Australian Association of Gerontology one-third of  patients aged over 65 who are admitted hospital are ‘overtly malnourished’.  Clinicians say up to 44 percent of older people are at risk.

Hello? I thought we had an obesity ‘epidemic’? Obviously, not among our ageing population.

The increasing physical problems faced by the elderly make it not only difficult for them to cook and eat meals, but also more socially isolated and lonely. Who wants to eat alone?

Thank goodness for Meals on Wheels you say? Well, there’s no choice with what you get. And its not’s not free. The price of a meal ranges up to $12.00.  Faced with the increasing rise in heating costs, rents, day care/home care, older people are often faced with deciding between buying a meal and paying the bills.

Experts on nutrition for the elderly increasingly view the traditional solutions to the problems of hunger and malnutrition — social policy fixes like Meals on Wheels — as inadequate.

As the elderly age, they develop chronic illnesses that kill their appetites or make it difficult for them to cook or eat. In addition, the drugs they take can suppress hunger, and deterioration of their senses can make them lose interest in food. In other words, even if one brings elderly people food, they will not necessarily eat.

The consequences of malnutrition in older people are calamitous. It causes slow healing, recurrent infections, delayed recovery, frequent falls, fracturing, frailty and premature death.

“These people are dying from infections,” my doctor friend said. “That’s how people in Somalia are dying!”

The solution is simple: Don’t let the elderly eat alone.

Continue reading

Posted in 2014 Blog Posts, August 2014, Money, Nutrician | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Why I’m looking forward to old age

Sure, there are many down sides to getting older – not least because you’re  getting closer to The End. But it’s not all doom and gloom – there’s a lot to look forward to as well.

  • Feeling younger than I look

My mother says she sometimes has a double-take when looking into the mirror and sees an old woman looking back at her. She still feels young on the inside. I’m looking forward to a little bit of self-delusion about my age, lying about it to anyone who asks, and banishing all mirrors.

  • Dressing outrageously

I will wear whatever I want and will no longer be concerned for what others might think of me. I’ll wear my tracky dacks and ugg boots if I want to be invisible. Or I’ll wear bright lipstick, stunning hats, bold scarves and edgy sunglasses if I want to pretend I’m an ex-movie star.

  • Time

Every morning my dad sits for hours in a sunny spot on the verandah with his coffee and newspaper.  I’d love to stroll down to the park, sit on a bench and watch life – twittering birds, people walking and talking, dogs running, children laughing and playing. I’d curl up on the lounge read all those books I’ve bought over the years but never got around to reading. I’d take my time browsing through the grocery store and actually read the labels to see what’s in them.  I’d listen to music with a glass of wine in hand every evening. Anyway, you get the picture … I’d take it slow. Continue reading

Posted in 2014 Blog Posts, July 2014 | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

To sell or not sell the family home?

not for sale

“If the home is worth more than the bond it starts to be viable to rent it out”

Attendant care is not cheap. We have two options: either paying someone to care for mum or dad at home or paying someone to care for them in a facility. Either way, a fee needs to be paid for the attendant care worker and – in the case of a residential aged care facility – additional fees for accommodation, meals and other ‘overheads’.

Home care doesn’t have the overhead costs, so it’s most likely going to be the cheaper option,  if full time attendant care is not required.

It’s important to understand the financial implications of each of those choices.

Continue reading

Posted in 2014 Blog Posts, July 2014 | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

I agree with PepsiCo CEO Indra K. Nooyi Who Says Women Can’t Have It All

indra k. nooyi

Indra K. Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, Photo courtesy Reuters

“I don’t think women can have it all. I just don’t think so,” said the CEO of PepsiCo Indra K. Nooyi in a frank interview on work-life balance earlier this week.

“We pretend we have it all.”

Her candid comments are refreshingly. This is a woman who regularly works to midnight, travels extensively and says being CEO is three full time jobs rolled into one.

Indra says her ‘coping mechanisms’ for juggling both a career and family life were to co-opt a lot of people to help, and to plan her life meticulously.

“You know, you have to cope, because you die with guilt. My observation? The biological clock and the career clock are in total conflict with each other. Total, complete, conflict. When you have to have kids you have to build your career. Just as you’re rising to middle management your kids need you because they’re teenagers, they need you for the teenage years.

“And as you grow even more, your parents need you because they’re aging. So we’re screwed.”

Continue reading

Posted in 2014 Blog Posts, July 2014 | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What’s it like, living with frailty?

friendshipsI’ve been reading research commissioned by Age UK on the experience of living with frailty. They spent time with older people to hear and see the challenges they face and what was important to them.

I think this research has powerful insights into who we are as [older] human beings from the perspective of those who have lived long, and are now at the latter part of their lives.

It’s a reminder to families, and the medical profession, that elderly people are so much more than their physical condition. Their health is very closely associated with their mental condition (a term that used to be called happiness, but seems to be so cliche this days).

We are social beings, we need a range of human connectedness, love, laughter, shared experiences, humour, etc. It’s vital to our health and happiness, our strength and resilience.

Continue reading

Posted in 2014 Blog Posts, June 2014 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When mother doesn’t know best

motherKnowsBest_webA mother knows best, doesn’t she?

A mother passes on her wisdom to her offspring. It’s instinctual to be guided by our mother. Our survival as a human species is in no little way due to following our mothers’ advice.

My mother taught me how to how to talk and walk, cook and clean, fend off bullies and make friends. Indeed my mother is my role model for motherhood.

That’s what makes it so hard when mother is wrong, when she doesn’t know what’s best.

This was made true to me when I met up with my friend Trish* at the local coffee shop the other day. We had a long chat about her mother-in-law and the difficulties Trish was facing about her care. This was draining her strength to such a point, she seemed to be on the verge of a serious meltdown.

Continue reading

Posted in 2014 Blog Posts | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

New rules for nursing home subsidies

aged care facilityAcross the world, governments are reducing their citizens dependency on residential care (formerly called ‘hostels’ and ‘nursing homes’ in Australia), and moving towards increased provision of care at home. Modifications, in-home carers and technology all make this a more possible and preferable option, not to mention a less costly one for government. At face value, this appears to be a win-win for both consumer and government. People usually want to stay in their homes, rather than go to residential care.

But many people do want and need residential care, perhaps because of a significant disability or life-limiting illness, but also simply because they choose to.

So, I’m a little uncomfortable with the reduced government subsidies for residential care for people who own their home that begin from 1 July, because it’s likely to reduce people’s options due to cost rather than wants and needs.

Continue reading

Posted in 2014 Blog Posts, June 2014 | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Every hour is precious


This photo appeared on my friend’s Facebook page tonight. It had been shared by many people and I took a look at the 258 responses.

I expected famous people and religious figures to be top choices. There were a few of these and more than a few Jesus requests, but mostly people wanted to spend an hour with their deceased mother or father.

I wasn’t the only one who noticed this, others remarked at this consistent theme.

Nobody loves you like your mum and dad does. If you have any children of your own, you know that to be true.

That kind of personal acceptance and deep concern for your welfare is rarely matched in other relationships.

If you are like me and have a parent living, count yourself very lucky. Spend an hour with them every now again. Record the things you talk about in your memory. One day you might want to replay it.

If you have a parent no longer living, then you might want to spend an hour writing him or her a letter to let them know how much you would like to sit with them for an hour and what you would would like to talk about. Who knows, they may be reading it over your shoulder.

Posted in 2014 Blog Posts, June 2014 | Tagged , | 2 Comments