Caring for two mums
5 MIN READ
Penny’s mum, Pat, (88) lives in the apartment below Maureen (85), Penny’s mother-in-law.
Both Pat and Maureen lost their husbands a few years back.
Now they like to spend their afternoons sitting in the garden having a chat or in one of the apartments entertaining each other.
Pat has Alzheimer’s.
While Maureen has Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.
Penny is caring for her two mums with help from her brothers and her husband Clark, Maureen’s only child.
‘Physically, my mum’s very fit; mentally, not so,’ Penny says. ‘The Alzheimer’s means she can’t remember anything and her behaviour is very repetitive.’
Children turned carers for ageing parents
We are living longer.
As a result, a growing number of children in their 40s, 50s and 60s now find themselves acting as carers for their ageing parents.
They might not call themselves carers, just children looking after their parents, but they are spending an increasing amount of time caring for them.
They often have a job, too, and, like Penny, have to juggle work with their family responsibilities at home and looking after their elderly relatives.
Looking after two homes can be a significant challenge and one they maybe weren’t expecting to face.
Penny has been with Bank of Ireland for 22 years and works in our Bristol office.
She works four days a week, 9am to 3pm.
‘I catch the bus to and from work,’ she says, ‘then I pick up the car and drive over to see the mums and do whatever’s got to be done.’
Some days, that just means having a sit down and a chat. On other days there are heavier responsibilities like cleaning the house.
‘Mum used to be quite a house-proud lady whereas now she tends to forget about the cleaning,’ Penny says.
‘I’m having a bit of a stand-off with her about the dusting, because I think that is something that she can do herself.
So far Pat’s response, she says, is ‘I had years of cleaning and cooking for you lot!’
A typical day
Pat still manages to live independently but, like many people with Alzheimer’s, her behaviour can be repetitive.
‘She gets up, she goes out, and she goes shopping,’ Penny says. ‘But she buys all the same things every day.’
Penny says her mum has no real reason to carry out this daily routine but, while Pat is still able to get out and about, she doesn’t feel she needs to stop her.
All the shopping, however, does mean the apartment fills with lots of the same things.
‘She’s got a little three-wheeled little walker thingy that she uses to assist her,’ Penny says, ‘and she comes back with that filled up with little bits and pieces of shopping.’
‘We end up with 17 bars of Imperial Leather soap or 15 pots of face cream.’
And if Pat sees something on offer, says Penny, she’ll buy it but she’ll buy it every day for weeks.
‘It is a bit of a waste of money, but the things that she buys, they’re never what I’d call big value things.’
Penny is just happy that Pat can go out, get the exercise, and see people.
She divides up what Pat buys and shares them amongst the family so they’re not wasted.
‘Although I often have to go and pay for things because she forgets to get money out to pay them in the shop,’ Penny says.
Communicating by notes
Like many children caring for elderly parents, Penny communicates with Pat using notes so that she doesn’t forget the things she has to do each day.
‘You have to ask her to write everything down,’ she says. ”Monday, don’t forget so and so and so and so.”
When Penny rings her up to make an arrangement to see her, she always reminds Pat to write the details down.
‘If I say, ‘look mum, I’ll come and pick you up today and we’ll go out somewhere – get your glad rags on,’ I have to say to her, ‘now write that down,’ she says.
When Pat has written it down, Penny knows to say to her, ‘what have you written down? Can you read that back to me?’
Penny arranges people to come to the apartment to do her hair, her chiropody and other services.
‘I quite often have to ring people and apologise because she hasn’t been in when they were booked to turn up,’ she says.
Everything goes on the calendar
In addition to the notes, there’s a calendar.
‘I’ve turned up to take her to funerals before now and she’s not even there because she’s gone out shopping,’ Penny says.
So everything goes on the calendar.
‘She keeps the calendar on the table in front of her where she sits,’ Penny explains. ‘So she can look to see what she’s supposed to be doing, today, where she’s got to be and that type of thing.’
Pat crosses the days off the calendar as they pass to keep track.
But there’s one thing that Pat can always remember.
‘Her PIN number for her bank card,’ Penny laughs. ‘Isn’t it funny?’
Pat can remember her PIN and she can manage to go into the local post office to draw out her money once a week.
‘You just have to remind her, every so often, that she’s doing as well as she is.’
Penny, like many children caring for ageing parents, has a look in the fridge each time she goes over to her mum’s to make sure everything is still in date.
‘I take a look and think to myself, ‘that needs to disappear, or that needs to disappear,’ and the same goes for my brothers when they pop round.’
But, Penny says, Pat loves where she lives.
The ‘sandwich’ generation
Penny and Clark have a 24-year-old daughter, Rebecca, who moved away to go to university then moved back home after completing her course.
‘She can’t afford to buy a house and move out,’ Penny says, ‘and she can’t afford to rent either so she’s back with us.’
Rebecca inherited Pat’s car when she gave up driving a few years back.
As Penny is looking after both her mum, Pat, (and helping to look after Clark’s mum, Maureen) while looking after Rebecca she is officially part of the ‘sandwich generation’.
The generation of people sandwiched between taking care of their children and caring for their parents.
An article from the BBC* based on a report from the Office for National Statistics* (ONS) estimates that 1.3 million ‘sandwich carers’ in Britain, mostly women, feel stressed and are ‘just about getting by’.
Caring for two mums
‘Mum can get up and get herself dressed and showered. She doesn’t even have to have carers,’ says Penny.
But she and her husband, Clark, know that won’t always be the case.
‘We’ve come to the conclusion that at some point or another she will have to have some sort of care, but at the moment she manages on her own with just our help.’
This conclusion suddenly became more real when Maureen had a seizure and had to be taken into hospital recently.
‘So as well as trying to visit my mum and sorting her out every day, we’ve got the added responsibility of doing hospital visiting,’ Penny says.
Maureen’s absence has affected Pat too.
With nobody to sit and chat with, as she loved to do with Maureen, Pat is feeling lonely.
‘Mum is very lonesome, now,’ says Penny.
Unfortunately, Maureen won’t be able to come back to the apartment upstairs from Pat and will have to go into a nursing home.
She was never as independent as Pat.
Even before Maureen went into hospital she was having carers visit her five times a day to help her with all her needs.
She’s virtually lost her sight and is now registered as blind.
Penny and Clark were already thinking about viewing care homes for her.
‘But now it’s a nursing home rather than a care home because she just can’t do anything,’ Penny says.
Dealing with it all
Dealing with emergencies like sudden hospital admissions as well as complex issues like finding appropriate nursing care at an affordable price can take their toll.
Carers sometimes neglect their own needs, lose touch with friends and discover that their finances are becoming strained.
All this can be invisible to others.
Penny says she feels lucky because she and Pat are very close, and she’s got support of her brothers.
‘When you’ve got two of them to look after it’s quite a handful,’ she says.
‘It’s not easy. You’re juggling a lot.
You just have to use your sense of humour and enjoy the time that you have with them still,’ she says.
Find out more
The Bank of Ireland has 6 employee networks providing support for colleagues including those who support their loved ones as parents, carers or both.
*Clicking on this link brings you to a third-party website. Bank of Ireland is not responsible for content on this website.