Wednesday, 6 July 2011

I Wish I'd Looked After Me Teeth

I Wish I’d Looked After Me Teeth

Once again there’s discussion in the news re. how to pay, and who should pay for the care of the elderly.

This is a subject dear to my heart, as my dear old Dad developed dementia (maybe Alzheimer’s – who knows, the doctors were certainly reluctant to give Dad a definitive diagnosis. Maybe it doesn’t matter when the end result is the same …). And his small inheritance which he’d hoped to leave to us kids was spent on expensive yet crap care.

There are just two things I’m going to discuss here. The first one briefly – I’ll come back to that in another blog – and the second one I want to explore here.

1. Sadly, my experience of residential “homes” for people with dementia is: They’ll say anything to get your money. It goes without saying that I was vulnerable too because of the guilt and tons of other emotions, about basically kidnapping my dad and placing him in a home. Why did I do this? All the usual reasons. But more of that later. But I decided that if this had to be the only option for Dad, then I wanted the best for him. It’s what he would have done for me. Trying to get the “best” I ended up transferring him twice, and was promised, in turn, all sorts of excellent care by all three of the care homes he stayed in, (in the two and a half years before he died). Sad to say they all lied. They all subjected my dad to thoughtlessness and casual neglect (or maybe stronger neglect as apparently my dad punched a care worker on his nose – hmmm, Dad wouldn’t have taken abuse from anyone! So who knows …) And, to add insult to possible injury, I was paying £850 A WEEK for that so-called care. The Beatles were right - money can’t buy you love.

2. I’m seriously considering saying to my kids – If it looks like I have to go into any sort of residential care, then it’s EXIT for me, or if not then at least HAVE ALL MY TEETH PULLED OUT. My father’s generation routinely had their teeth extracted – especially in the forces, during the Second World War. My Mum would tell us children to look after our teeth, and regale us with hairy toothy tales, and how she’d avoided having hers pulled out when many of her friends went down that route. They were told it was more convenient and that cleaning and having fillings, etc., was too much of a bother. Much better to have brand spanking new ones with less fuss. So, my theory is that because of this, many care homes for people with dementia haven’t got to grips with the problem of teeth hygiene and teeth cleaning – because the vast majority of the residents have dentures. My dad had a lovely set of his own teeth. Like Mum and all of us, he had regular six-monthly (I know, now they’re yearly) checkups and was proud of his teeth. He took care of them. Looked after them. I remember back when Pam Ayers won Opportunity Knocks and how my parents would roar with laughter at her poem I Wish I’d Looked After Me Teeth – happy in the knowledge that their gnashers were shiny and clean.

I first realized Dad’s teeth were a problem when it was clear that they were discoloured and almost brown. I asked the carers to please make sure he cleaned his teeth. I was met with blank stares, which I came to recognize was the normal response of carers on low pay and with English as their second language. I don’t blame them, I blame those who are coining it in, buying in cheap labour from other countries, giving minimal training, and paying the minimum wage while fleecing residents’ family members who pay through their noses and their guilt! We all hope for the best!

Dad was deaf when he went in and wore hearing aids. These were never cleaned out by the carers, unless I made a fuss; and even then it was like I’d asked them to perform brain surgery. It was too much bother. Never mind that it ought to have been my Dad’s basic human rights – to hear as best he could! He had nothing else to occupy his days – as their promised activites never arrived ... Dad became more and more isolated, more frustrated, and his spirit sapped. (Oh how I cheered inside when I was informed that he’d punched one of the assistants!!!)

Dad would use a toothpick after his meals. But this wasn’t allowed in the care home – “In case he harms himself” – so we brought him in floss – again not allowed by the Gestapo. Dad’s teeth continued to decline and I insisted that he saw a dentist. They tried to get me to take him, but he was so demented and anxious that this was a ridiculous idea. What on earth do I pay you for? I said.

Then came the day when Dad was mithering about his teeth more than usual, with his fingers in his mouth. ‘Can you please check his teeth?’ I said. Eventually I discovered a couple of weeks later when I looked inside his mouth, that he had a broken tooth. I hit the roof with the carers. There was much fussing about, and this proved the last straw for that home – there were numerous other things which happened not least of which was Dad developing a bed sore.

Now, when I think back with hindsight I wonder if it would have kinder to suggest he had all his teeth extracted. I know that wouldn’t have happened because 1) they would have thought I was a nutter daughter, and 2) he was unlikely to survive the anaesthetic.

I seriously don’t think that care homes have thought through dental hygiene. Imagine, not only not having your teeth brushed day after day, but also having bits of meat and other food stuck in between your teeth, sore and rotting. Think of no-one understanding and caring, and how you lose all your dignity, and are in pain. There’s also the real danger of infection from teeth tracking down to the heart. This is a real medical danger.

So, I Wish I’d Looked After Me Teeth? Hmmm. In the horrible neglectful shameful shambles which is elderly care, it might well be better if you hadn’t!

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