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The daughter of an 80-year-old woman with dementia reveals how hard it was to leave her mum in a care home. Despite feeling torn between checking on her and ‘leaving her to settle’, photographs reveal her mum's dramatic improvement within weeks of moving to the home.
"I thought care homes all smelled of urine because that’s what I remember when I was a child visiting my grandfather", says 46-year-old Caroline Nichol.
“Mum said ‘Don’t ever put me in a home’ and Ms Nichol felt there was no need to, until her mother Iris Moseling developed vascular dementia and police took away her driving license when she crashed her car.
'Dust in the saucepans'
Her daughter says of visits to her mother's home: “It occurred to me she hadn’t been eating properly because there was dust in the saucepans. I washed them up. Two weeks later…same thing.”
With a full-time job, Ms Nichol paid a firm to deliver meals and another for home care staff. But Iris would tell them to ‘pop the food in the kitchen’ and would fall asleep. She'd later forget she hadn’t eaten and put the food away in the fridge.
Every day, her daughter battled to make Iris eat. But her efforts went unrewarded.
“Mum said: ‘If you nag me to eat, I shan’t eat at all’, so I went outside and sobbed my little heart out.”
When Ms Nichol took a two-week holiday, leaving her brother and carers in charge, Iris’ health deteriorated. She became malnourished and developed a large bruise on her face when she fell and hit her head on the coffee table.
“She was slumped on the sofa and if I had left her there another week she would have died. The home carers didn’t let me know she’d fallen. "I said to my husband I can’t cope”.
'I had to be crafty'
With four slipped discs in her back, Ms Nichol could hardly walk or dress herself some days, and needed a back operation. She searched care homes and found what she calls a ‘five-star hotel with a family feel’ at Barchester Ashminister House in Ashford.
When its staff visited Iris at home, Ms Nichol says: “I told Mum they were district nurses. I had to be crafty otherwise she wouldn’t have spoken to them.”
She told the visitors to “play along”and suggest Iris have respite care, while she underwent back surgery.
The morning of her first day at the care home, Iris, a former policewoman, questioned her daughter with the words: “Do I have a choice?”
Feelings of shame and guilt crept in for Ms Nichol who replied: “No. I can’t look after you for a few days". She says of the day she drove away from the care home “I left her there. I wasn’t sure what to do.
"It’s a bit like taking your child to school for the first time. You never know whether to visit to check or leave her to settle in.”
Finding a corner to have a little cry
But Ms Nichol’s doubts about leaving her mother soon disappeared. “She’d only been in a week and she started walking, not shuffling between furniture. I had to find a private corner to have a little cry”.
Initially, Iris would ask her: “When can I go home?” But when her daughter showed a photograph of her bruised face (the result of her fall at home just days before moving out) Iris said: “If that was what I was like, I’ll stay here.”
Three weeks after arriving, Iris stopped asking to leave the care home. She began dressing and washing herself and making friends.
Ms Nichol was so impressed about the dramatic improvement in her mother after only four weeks at the home, she posted a review about Ashminster House on carehome.co.uk, writing in the review how her mother had been:
'struggling to live at home with mild/moderate dementia and kidney disease. I contacted Ashminster House and was so impressed moved mum in ASAP within four weeks mum looked like a new woman! She is putting weight back on. Every single member of staff has been amazing.'
"Iris has settled in very well" says Sandra Verrell general manager at Barchester Ashminster House Care Home, run by Barchester Healthcare.
"She enjoys particularly the reminiscing, where she chats about when she was a policewoman in Maidstone, sharing her stories with the other residents over a cup of coffee. Iris is always keen to go out for trips in our minibus to local places around Ashford too. It is a pleasure having Iris and her family here."
Ms Nichol adds: “Our relationship has improved. She’s playing bingo! Which I never thought I’d see.”