It takes a lot of people, 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 was a home that was regularly cared for, decorated and cleaned. But, 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 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 all 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 place 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.

frayed carpet in house

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. 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 this situation; which changes all the time.

holy picture  beside doorway

The house is still a familiar place to him.

He understands the layout and space but does not seem to notice the décor, or how clean it is – or not. But, he often says: ‘this is a great house…. I think I bought didn’t I”?

But sometimes he has an idea that he lives somewhere else… that there is another ‘home’, another place he should be.

Furniture and '60's fireplace in old house

The digital central heating system confuses him – as it does everyone else.

Even switching on the TV  (or finding the right remote) is hit and miss.  He likes to watch football, 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 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.

unclean cutlery on draining board  in old person's house

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 two fridges, side by side. One works, the other….we just haven’t got round to getting it moved out yet.

clothes handing outside of wardrobe in old person's house

For people suffering from dementia cupboard doors and drawers are a visual barrier.

He forgets what is inside –  or even that there is an inside. Maybe that’s why we often find him searching for something. He is not sure where to look, and no longer has 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 dementia makes  difficult for him to think about anything that is not directly in front of him. 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.

living room in house

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 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.

Of course there are a lot of memories  here.

I remember when we got the ‘new’ suite – even though it was second hand.  That was nearly 50 years ago. But, like so many of her generation my mum  would say: “ It will do me to the end of my days…”

hassled lampshade

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 not sure it works.

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.

blistered paintwork in old house - view of window cill

We cope with maintaining the house to a liveable standard, but there is much more that should be done to bring it up to the way my mother kept it.  

My dad used to take responsibility for the exterior paintwork but it is now all cracked and peeling, weathered and worn.

Just a few years ago he was still very active and involved. He could turn his hand to most DIY jobs.  Now the garage has been largely abandoned to cobwebs. It an overflow space for things that have not yet made their way to the dump.

But it will all have to be sorted and cleared – some time.

holy picture on bedroom wall

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 religious pictures in the home much now  –  or maybe they are just more discrete. Religion was very important to my parents, and I believe this picture made them feel safe and watched over. They would not felt comfortable to set up their home without it.

It would not have felt like home.

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights within the social/spatial sphere.

You may also like...


  1. Nuala , you have captured this in a very honest personal way- reading and seeing it through your eyes. It kept me reading.

  2. Thankyou CC. That means a lot.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: