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My mum’s story is a tragic one, although there was a silver lining in the end.
Since I was 9 (I am currently 45) my mum, Maurine, had battled with mental health issues. She had bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression and until her late forties was an alcoholic.
When she was in her late 60s during a stay at the state mental health institution following a suicide attempt, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer ’s disease (AD). She was unable to cope on her own and struggled with doing simple daily living tasks, including cooking and cleaning. She was having some memory problems but was still able to make all of her own decisions at this stage. She had just turned 71.
As a single mum with my own family, working fulltime and living about 30 mins drive away, I could not look after mum myself. She was lucky to have a wonderful case worker (under the Mental Health for Older Persons programme) who managed to find mum a place in a great care facility who would take mum given her significant mental health issues, challenging behaviours and ‘difficult’ personality. In 2006, she went to live in a low care residential aged care facility which was a great comfort to me, and even though she complained about it and didn’t quite understand why she couldn’t ‘go home’, she really enjoyed the company and the daily stimulation.
She could be very difficult, sometimes aggressive, rude to others and just plain obnoxious….and that was on good days. The staff were great and managed to understand and adapt to mum’s ‘uniqueness’.
In 2010 her physical capabilities had declined somewhat and after an ACAT assessment it was decided that she needed to be placed in high care: she was both bladder and bowel incontinent, struggled to walk, dress and wash herself and by this stage had severe speech problems. However she still liked to make sure her greys (hair) weren’t showing and was still proud and independent. Over the next few months her memory and speech became worse and she could not remember the tragic life she had had…what I like to call the silver lining of her Alzheimers Disease.
She also became a joy to be around…she would laugh at most things and became quite child like. She still remembered me and my children (her grandchildren) but past events were no longer in her mind. Mum could not remember many words, could not hold a conversation, but would string a few words together and every time I visited would repeat the same statement with a great deal of excitement…’ahh its my beautiful daughter…[announcing to everyone] look its my beautiful daughter/granddaughter’.
Just when I thought mum’s body would outlive her brain, on January 2 2011, I received a call urging me to hurry to see mum.
Mum died very peacefully, after dinner, and three days after her last hair cut. Her heart just stopped.
She was the lucky one…..she did not have to go through the end stages of this debilitating disease…and we did not have to watch it.