Following his mini-stroke, Dad is much improved, and I am sure his excellent state-funded care has played a part
Dad is much improved since my Boxing Day visit. I spoke with my sisters on the phone, and it seems that he is almost back to how he was before his latest mini-stroke. Not only is he sitting up, eating more solid food and attempting conversation, but also he is walking, with support.
The vision of him lying immobile in his hospital bed, drifting in and out of consciousness, has receded, and I am now able to picture him ensconced in the sitting room once more, a twinkle in his eye.
It is a huge relief, but as a family we are all left smarting at the mysterious nature of his disease. Its ebb and flow is so unpredictable. Yet I am convinced that the care he is getting in his home has played a big part in this upswing. The warmth and respect his carers show, the obvious comfort he gleans from their presence; these have helped to restore him.
Witnessing this has been the silver lining of the whole situation. All too often in life, it feels as if we are on our own, that there wouldn’t be a hand to catch us if we fell. We hear tales of terrible abuse of the elderly, and uneasily push thoughts of our own old age from our minds.
Yet what has happened to Dad has shown me that our society can look after the most vulnerable. The state is providing him with somewhere comfortable and safe, with ready smiles, cups of tea and competent nursing on tap. When he was diagnosed, I didn’t think the NHS would pay for his new needs. And at the beginning, it didn’t – his assets were used to pay for private carers. But around a year ago, he worsened significantly and we were told by his psychiatric nurse that he was eligible for “continuing healthcare”, a package of care provided outside hospital, arranged and funded solely by the NHS, for people with ongoing healthcare needs.
I had never heard of it, but it is exactly the safety net you would hope for if a loved one became horribly ill. It does not have to take place in a care home setting; people who meet the criteria can have care funded in their own homes. There is no ceiling on the amount paid out and it isn’t means-tested or age-related.
But it has been described as a “secret” care fund because, like me, many families simply don’t know of its existence. Once they do find out about it, the battle to secure it for their relative can be a lengthy, painful and expensive process.
Access can be difficult for those with dementia, as key symptoms of the disease are not weighted as priorities in the assessment process. Of the around 100,000 people with late-stage dementia in the UK, estimates from the Alzheimer’s Society suggest that in 2009 only 46,599 had access to NHS continuing healthcare.
As with so much else, the chance of getting it seems to depend greatly on where you live, with evidence pointing towards a postcode lottery. So while Dad has been unfortunate in so many regards, the comparative ease with which he was approved for this benefit makes him one of the lucky ones.
At a time when so much has been difficult, painful and confusing, his excellent state-funded care has been a comfort. It represents stability – crucial for people with dementia. Indeed, I shudder to think how stressful things might be if he didn’t receive it. And that is a stress that thousands of other families are facing right now.
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