In awe of live-in carers’ dedication who look after people like my grandmother
- Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Nick Conrad has spent time with his grandmother recently and has become more aware of the fantastic work of her carers
Last week I sat with my ninety-two-year-old grandmother for a blissful hour. The conversation flowed, yet the fog of dementia means she flits between topics with little to grasp by the way of a 'salient' direction. I'm saddened yet I accept that the vibrant, thoughtful, intelligent woman who I idolised has faded. For me, my beloved grandmother will die twice.
First metaphorically, then literally.
I still get that maternal feeling, that I always adored, when in her company. She still makes me laugh. We still have a strong bond - one where words have been replaced by the tight grip of the hand or stroking her back.
The house is much the same as in my youth. The Aga lacks the homely smell of baked bread, the pages of her endless books have long since been turned, but it's still home. A new warmth radiates around the house, one that has reminded me of my core values and made me question my priorities.
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I now find myself going over to my grandmother's house to see three people - my grandmother and her two amazing carers. Mutsa and Clara are angels. A pair of feathered wings wouldn't look out of place on their backs. These two Zimbabwean women are frankly inspirational.
They demonstrate a selflessness, which makes me rather ashamed to be so selfish. They have no time for false platitudes, grandiose statements or virtue-signalling - they lead by example. They demonstrate compassion, tolerance and patience in measures many pay lip service to but fail to practically deliver. The have added to the care delivered by my dedicated wider family who do an excellent job.
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They work in fortnightly stints, living with my grandmother. They provide 24-hour care. The only real break they get is when she sleeps. This clearly is a vocation, not just a job. They engage with the whole family; in turn we've adopted them into our lives. What shines through is their genuine compassion. They look after my grandmother as if she was their own mother.
They also make significant sacrifices. They can't abandon their duty to run to the aid of a stricken friend or family member. They stoically carry on even when feeling 'under the weather.' But I strongly feel we need to re-evaluate our appreciation of caregivers. We need to ensure the sector is vibrant, fairly paid and offering decent career progression. The common consensus is it that currently fails on all of those points.
In the UK, the social care industry is heavily reliant on foreign workers. From every continent citizens have moved to the UK to ply their trade. The international community makes up 20pc of workers in this sector. Their labour is absolutely essential and we would struggle to function without their dedication. Different cultural attitudes and working practices are both welcome and essential to how we look after our elderly.
This kind of care package comes at a price. The importance of looking after elderly members of society might be underplayed. Many cultures frown upon the perceived British attitude to this challenge. I've engaged with various carers from all over the world who have given me a fascinating multicultural perspective on how best to face this challenge.
From German Mehrgenerationenhäuser to American retirement villages - all systems have their pros and cons. But what underpins the very best structure is the respect that carers have for their clients. I take my hat off to those in this sector who work so incredibly hard. I hope the day is coming where carers get the praise they so rightly deserve.