It takes a lot of people involved on a daily basis, to keep my dad in his own home. We have someone to cut the grass; someone to cut the hedges; a cleaner who comes twice a week; carers three times a day and family members scheduled at different times, just to keep the house, and him, ticking over. My father is 89 and has dementia. We know that he will soon have to move into full time care. We don’t know when that will be: when he cannot cope, is a danger to himself, or has a fall. The aim of Social Services is to keep him at home as long as he is able – and for as long as we can manage.
The house is in a state of decline. It suffers from neglect, general deterioration and wear and tear. It used to be a home that was regularly cared for, decorated and cleaned. Once my mother went into residential care, bit by bit it was left to slide.
There is only so much we can do to it in the time that we have. So we only deal with what is necessary to keep it clean and functioning. The building, its contents and the decor have all gone far beyond the point where basic home improvements would make any difference. It needs a major overhaul – but it’s just not worth spending a chunk of money on it for the time that he has left in this house. And it would probably be too much of an upheaval for my dad.
He doesn’t notice how things are. He is comfortable here … with the rooms, the furniture and location. To move him from this will be difficult. He has lived here for nearly 50 years and is safe, warm, content, relatively independent and is doing very well. It would be a very different story if he had to cope without family support. He would struggle with very basic personal care and the house would be a total mess.
Every day the house loses value, not just in a monetary sense, but as somewhere someone would actually want to live. Of course, we think about how the house looks, and how it looks to others about the way we are looking after him. But our focus is to keep it running day to day. We will soon see how long he can cope – or we can cope – with his situation, which changes all the time.
The house is still a familiar place to him. He does not notice the décor, or how clean it is, or not. He often says: ‘this is a great house…. I think I bought didn’t I”? Sometimes he has an idea that he lives somewhere else… that there is another ‘home’, another place he should be.
The heating system confuses him and even switching on the TV (or finding the right remote) is hit and miss. He likes to watch a match but sometimes he nods off on the chair. With each stage of this illness we have noticed that he interacts less and less with the house. He is no longer engages with routine daily activities and has lost the ability to switch on a kettle to make a cup of tea. Occasionally, he will rinse through a mug or plate or spoon. Later, we will find it on the draining board or in the cupboard: the mug still smeared with lip stains, the plate sticky with toast crumbs, the bowl with bits of dried-in weetabix or a spoon still covered with egg.
He does not think about how laundry makes its way through the system: through the washing machine, onto the line, ironed and back in place, ready for re-use. Or how the bins are emptied, the fridge stocked and toilet rolls replaced. Luckily he does not have to, because he has family to do it for him. We are happy to do it. We know what he needs and he is always very appreciative of our help.
Now, only visiting family members use the cooker, the iron, the freezer, the vacuum cleaner and microwave. The dishwasher has been broken for years and will never be fixed, or replaced. We have 2 fridges, side by side. One works, the other….we just haven’t got round to getting it moved out yet.
Cupboard doors and drawers are a visual barrier and he forgets what is inside – or even that there is an inside. Maybe that’s what we often find him searching for something. He is not sure where to look, and mostly does not have the words to explain what he is looking for.
In my parents’ bedroom my father’s trousers and shirts hang from the wardrobe handles. In the other two rooms, more clothes, underwear, socks, jumpers, are spread out on the beds. His illness makes difficult for him to think about anything that is not directly in front of him and deciding what to wear each day makes him anxious. If things are set out there is a greater chance that he will see them. If not, he will not think where it might be. Every chair in the house is draped with a suit jacket. There is no point in tidying them away.
When it is eventually sold ‘in need of some modernisation’ it will be very obvious that this is/was the home of an elderly person. We assume that everything in it – because it is outdated, worn, old, tired and shabby, will end up on a skip, and be dumped. We grew up with most of these things but our own homes are fully furnished and there is very little here that we want, or have room, to keep. The furniture in this house is not antique, or vintage; it’s just old, and old fashioned. It’s very sad that even though the furniture is such a part of this house, and of the people who live ( and used to live) here, no-one else would want it.
There are a lot of memories here. I remember when we got the ‘new’ suite even though it was second hand. It must be over 50 years old. Like so many of her generation my mum had a war-time outlook and would say: “ It will do me to the end of my days…”
We manage to keep the house clean and relatively tidy but it has not had a spring clean or a clear out, or been decorated in a very long time. And it shows. Every cupboard is full of ‘stuff’. Old videotapes, records and CDs Fawlty Towers, Andre Rieu, Singin’ in the Rain, Oklahoma – are still stacked tidily under the TV. We still have a VCR but I’m sure it doesn’t work.
Now, the carpets and sofas have become worn, flat and threadbare. Light fittings have gathered layers of dust and the furniture has lost its sheen. Black under-layers of the wood-effect laminate flooring are exposed through over-washing. All the paintwork on the walls, floors, ceilings has darkened and the wallpaper now looks drab and dull. Some ceramic tiles in the cloakroom have fallen off, others have had makeshift repair taping them onto the wall – a temporary solution. But it’s been like that for years. It’s just one example of things that are not ‘being done’ to the house. In the past, these things would have been fixed and regularly maintained.
We cope with maintaining the house to a liveable standard, but there is much more that should be done to bring it up to, or even back to the way my mother kept it. All the things my dad used to take responsibility for such as the exterior paintwork, is now all cracked and peeling, weathered and worn. Even just a few years ago he was still very active and involved. In the past he could turn his hand to most DIY jobs. Now the garage has been largely abandoned to cobwebs and as an overflow for things that have not yet made their way to the dump. But it will all have to be sorted and cleared some time.
This religious picture has been above my parents bed for as long as I can remember. They must have got it when they first married. People don’t have them much now – or maybe they are just more discrete. Religion was very important to my parents, and I guess this picture made them feel safe and watched over. They would not have set up home without it. It would not have felt like home.