‘I can’t quite remember your name, but I know I love you’
- Credit: � ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC 2
Broadcaster, EDP columnist and champion of the care sector Nick Conrad shows his gratitude to the carers who allow his beloved grandmother to stay in her own home.
I have a new way of embracing my grandmother, Audrey.
Previously I'd pull her close, a warm bear hug, now she likes to look me over first. Behind her tired eyes, I can see her brain whirring slowly away. Like an old computer scanning files, it takes a few seconds before she truly acknowledges who I am. Then as the recognition ignites within, I receive a lovely embrace and pats on the back.
'I can't quite remember your name, but I know I love you,' she says.
For some silly reason she remembers 'Nick Conrad', but doesn't always associate the radio persona with the real person standing in front of her.
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Dementia hasn't robbed my grandmother of her warmth, but it has stolen her rational and clarity. It's a cruel condition, turning a feisty and independent free thinker into a 'mental prisoner' – locked in a cycle of repetitiveness and restriction. Well, bo****ks to dementia! This is a condition worthy of a stronger expletive.
Out of the gloom I can identify a number of positives. The sheer kindness extended towards my grandmother has been humbling: from neighbours and old friends, to businesses, even strangers in the street in Sheringham – people have been simply lovely. But two particular individuals I want to single out for praise.
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I have always been the greatest supporter of our care sector. The angelic work undertaken by poorly paid, dedicated individuals needs to be championed.
What I've recently witnessed has taken my appreciation to a whole new stratosphere. Live-in carers have liberated my family, ensured my grandmother receives respectful and person-centred care and, amazingly, they have kept my grandmother in her own home.
Who are these 'angels'? Clara and Mutsa take it in turns to live with Audrey.
My grandmother has a big enough house to allow two people to live together without feeling like they're on top of each other. But there is little respite for the carer or downtime. Quite how they constantly maintain an approachable, friendly and professional demeanour is beyond me.
Both Clara and Mutsa clearly feel looking after the elderly is a deep honour. They treat my grandmother with the same respect they would afford one of their own family members.
Let's be frank – the care industry does rely on migrant labour. In the case of Mutsa, originally from Zimbabwe, I felt a pang of guilt as she talked about her own mother whom she sees infrequently. It must be hard for many workers who are delivering superb care in the UK but, due to geography, can't then look after their own loved ones.
With care prices rocketing, this was a realistic alternative to a traditional home or nursing place for us. Sadly it won't be for everyone. My grandmother was earmarked for a residential home, however the family collectively decided supporting Audrey at home for as long as possible was by far the best option – and the cost was comparable.
England, meanwhile, faces a 'crisis' in care home places. Recent research has identified the need for 'urgent action' because of a rising population of older people.
Frankly, the report's findings are obvious and successive governments should shoulder the blame for inadequate planning. It will be a tough challenge to deliver the shortfall of 50,000 more beds by 2022 to meet demand.Keeping people in their own home for longer could be a fruitful investment.
Mutsa and Clara have maximised my grandmother's independence, enabling her to remain reasonably active and engaged with the people who matter most. Living at home allows people to spend more time with their families, feel safe in a familiar environment and remain part of their local community.
I will forever be grateful for our carers' professionalism and support.