Belfast Telegraph

Making life easier for our elderly relatives

By Frances Burscough

I've been in England all this week, looking after my dad, who's 83 and slowly succumbing to old age. Or, as he puts it, he's "losing his marbles". We first noticed something was up a few years ago when he went into town in the car but then came back on the bus. He'd forgotten where he had parked the car and so he just came home without it. My sister and I spent the rest of that day driving through Preston looking for it, imagining an astronomical parking fee or, even worse, a clamp. Eventually we found it in a church car park and the keys were still in the ignition.

Apparently this is typical of someone with Alzheimer's, so we took him for various tests at the memory clinic but he passed them all with flying colours and was sent home with a clean bill of mental health.

But it was a warning sign, and since then his short-term memory has been failing bit by bit. Or, as he puts it, some days he "doesn't know his ass from his elbow".

So every morning he'll ask me "What day is this again?" followed by "did we put the bins out?" or "have I paid the milkman?" or something completely arbitrary that's been bothering him such as "can you remember the first name of your Uncle Ted's wife?" I'll answer him, but half-an-hour later he'll ask exactly the same things again.

It's almost like his brain has reached its full capacity and can't retain any more information, like a computer that's run out of memory. There isn't a lot that can be done about this - it's just a natural but very sad part of the ageing process.

However there are certain practical things that are available to assist people going through the same predicament. My eldest sister works as an occupational therapist specialising in Alzheimer's patients so she has insider knowledge about new products as they come on the market, often years before your GP even hears about them.

As a result we have installed a number of innovations that really help dad at home. I'm sharing them here for anyone who is also going through something similar with an elderly parent or relative.

The first thing to make a huge difference was the automated pill dispenser. As a result of assorted medical conditions Dad was having to remember to take six or seven different pills in the morning and two others at bedtime. Due to his forgetfulness, this had started to prove a bit of a problem. For example, sometimes he'd been distracted by the phone or the post and forgotten half of them; or he couldn't remember if he'd taken any at all and so he would accidentally take double. However this brilliant gadget takes all the guesswork away. Each morning (at a pre-set time) a loud alarm goes off to tell him it's time for his meds.

Then a window opens to reveal the correct dosage in a slot at the front of the dispenser. The action of tipping the tablets out automatically resets the timer so that the window closes again and it won't open until the next dose is due. Of course it requires setting up and refilling each month, but it is so simple and user-friendly that it's made a huge difference to both him as the patient and us as his carers.

The next is a Godsend for people suffering from dementia. The Memrabel Clock is a small screen, about A4 size, which is lit up with the day, the date, the time of day and whether it's morning, afternoon, evening or night-time. Dad now has one on his bedside table and another downstairs next to the telly. It has helped to restore his confidence as well as comfort him when he's confused, particularly when he wakes up in the morning and can't remember "his ass from his elbow".

The third device which has made a huge difference is the screening service offered by BT which intercepts and blocks unsolicited cold-callers.

This is easy to set up with a single phone call and a one-off payment. Dad used to be plagued by nuisance callers trying to sell him things and to get hold of his bank details.

Now he never has to deal with them and so another serious concern is gone for good.

Belfast Telegraph

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