Posted by Debbie Harris

Risk averse? Not that you'd notice.

87. Own home. Own car. Small dog. Keen gardener. Self-sufficient. Member of WI. Volunteers for the National Trust and the local club for blind people. Knits, sews, crochets.

… but Audrey also has osteoarthritis, extensive scar tissue from tuberculosis 60 years ago, Type 2 Diabetes, mild asthma and a skin condition. She is completely deaf in one ear, needs a hearing aid for the other and, like most people of her age, needs varifocal lenses in her glasses. She is a major falls risk and takes enough prescription pills to rattle. And yet she seemingly won't recognise any of this and take the necessary care

Noticing when care is needed
Cornwall - heaven with hazards

Cornwall... sun, sea, boats, pasties, cream teas... and a few other things besides on my friend's annual holiday with her mum.

"Every year, Mum and I take ourselves off to a cottage to the glorious south-west for a week. Every year I use this period to evaluate any change in her well-being from the previous year. 

It is abundantly clear now that when she is beyond the comfort zone of her own home, the village she lives in and the town she visits twice weekly, she feels increasingly vulnerable. She is unsteady on her feet, more stooped than I remembered from last year, hesitant on pavements and in shops, unable to walk more than 100 metres on the flat without getting very breathless, wobbly when negotiating steps and prone, as I discovered, to hypa sessions with next to no warning. She doesn't hear what people are asking her in cafes and shops and she swiftly becomes dis-orientated. Background noise - conversations, music and the pings and rings of electrical devices easily distract and confuse her.

Mum has always looked after herself and was always cautious with my brother and me as we grew up - still providing assessments, prognoses and recommendations for any medical condition she suspected we may have long after we'd left the family home.

An orthodontic dental nurse until she retired, she was always mindful of health and safety generally, and super-respectful of anyone in a white coat/suit with a stethoscope. Definitely of the generation that took professional guidance at face value and always 'did as she was told'.

But what do I see now?

An apparently obstinate refusal to - as she would put it - 'give in' to growing old, despite a real fear of being immobile, as her own mother was beyond the age of 50.

When care is needed
These sticks are made for walking

What does 'not giving in' mean, exactly?

Well, it means ignoring the foldable walking stick by the front door - certainly not taking it on holiday - perish the thought!

There's more...

It means failing to read and abide by the helpful instructions in the easy-to-read leaflet on the likely effects of Type 2 Diabetes.

It means going out in the morning after a small bowl of 'healthy' cereal and a cup of unsweetened tea... falling to notice the huge bunch of bananas in the bowl on the table and having a hypa session half an hour later, with just a few jelly beans at the bottom of her bag...

It means forgetting to carry a replacement battery for her hearing aid.

it also means getting extremely cross with me whenever I gently remind, cajole, encourage, or produce the collapsible walking stick from my bag.

Seemingly...

this is no more than someone being a bit forgetful and grumpy. But of course, the reality is very different  isn't it?

Because she is my mum and we know each other well, I realise that this is about mum fearing - really fearing - losing control and having to relinquish her independence. In her own way, she is 'running away'... I suspect she's subconsciously happy for me to take over responsibility because that way she can 'blame me' for being unnecessarily fussy. 

She has always been so capable, coping with being an early widow and a young(ish) grandma; offering her time, willingly and free, to a variety of needy and worthwhile causes over the years, and always being there to help and support anyone who needs it - in whatever way she can - mopping brows, giving lifts, making clothes. She's always joined clubs, built friendships, sustained loyalties - and 'got on' with stuff, learning how to live alone and managing brilliantly after losing her husband - my dad -  when he was only the age I am now.

But 'old' age - and at 87 she is old now - is something she is really struggling to accept for herself, and live with. Despite having supported her own elderly mother and an aunt for many years, she is, herself, unprepared and unwilling to accommodate some of the features and factors already familiar to her - and which perhaps, she found hard to manage when helping others.

On reflection, I recognise that, as a family and possibly like many others, we have not talked about this... we have not actively planned, nor have we ever willingly embraced the topic in a constructive way. It's either been a taboo, tiresome, difficult subject about which we all have - to a degree - pre-conceived ideas. It's definitely been on the 'too difficult' pile... and as a result, Mum is now struggling with something that she should, with our earlier help, be accepting of and confident about. She should be content and secure.

Instead, she's scared. But it's still on the 'too difficult' pile.

It's a shared responsibility

My generation - and our children's - need to learn from this. We plan for everything else in life... we should prepare for this and make sure life's journey can continue without fear by bringing this topic into the open, earlier. It's part of life - and for some, it lasts for many years."

"As the founder of Autumna, I will always, whole-heartedly, champion the value of what we are all trying to do here.

Debbie Harris

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