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Her disease is a brazen thief. It broke into my mother's life several years ago and began stealing from her in plain sight. Took her strength. Waltzed off with chunks of her confidence and concentration. Then came the awful ransacking of her memory. But its latest act of bastardry hurts the most.
Mum is in hospital after a worrying collapse when the specialist tells her he's sorry. But he's adamant. She won't be going home. The one place that gives her joy is now deemed too dangerous. Her Parkinson's disease has accelerated, robbing her of the remaining strength in her legs, compounding her dementia. She needs permanent, 24-hour care.
She doesn't get angry. She doesn't plead for one more chance to return home and prove him wrong. She's stubborn, yes. But too polite for all that carry-on. Too exhausted from fighting her body's betrayals. Too dismayed by the thief's constant looting. She weeps instead.
We knew this moment was coming. Not that it makes it easier. We may be secretly thankful that a medical expert has made the decision and not left it to the family. But it doesn't soften the guilt of consigning your mother to an aged care facility, of failing to repay the years she cared for you.
And so, after my father's valiant battle to keep her by his side, aided by a battalion of nurses, physios and cleaners, a new home is found for Mum. It's bright. Clean. Dad visits every day for lunch. The nurses have taken a shine to her as well, stopping by to give her comforting hugs. She's always up for those. After a lifetime dispensing them she's owed a few.
But the new place doesn't remotely smell like home, much less feel like it. Many of the familiar items that help to illustrate the stories of our lives are missing; those framed family photos always hanging slightly askew; that wardrobe of clothes no longer worn but always kept because you never know when you might need them; those dozens of quilts draped over beds and displayed on walls, intricate artworks made with such passion back when her hands were loyal servants and not traitors refusing her simplest orders.
We forget how easily hearts are wrenched when the familiar is taken away. I was a teenager when I moved to another city for my first job. For weeks the only cure for the homesickness gnawing at my gut was to huddle in the phone booth at the end of the street, dispensing endless 20 cent pieces in the dark so I could talk to my mum.
Researchers have found depression and anxiety declines among people as they age. But only when they remain in the community. Three-quarters of aged care residents display symptoms of depression, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. More than half of those in a recent study were diagnosed with a mental illness.
It feels like another of those can't-win predicaments increasing numbers of Australian families are being forced to confront. My mother's condition requires full time professional care. But placing her in a home may also trigger what experts call "relocation stress", further provoking her dementia.
According to a recent paper, relocating to an aged care facility often contributes to "a significant decline in older adult's mental health, making it a clear risk factor for anxiety and depression".
My mother's fears and frustrations are now expressed more often in tears than words. She cries a lot. There isn't a day when she doesn't ask Dad to take her home. She can't operate a smartphone because of her treacherous hands. But some nights she cajoles a nurse into dialling my father's number. She gets on the phone and demands he come get her. And he must sit there, her place on the couch next to him empty, and deny his wife the one thing she desperately craves.
My mother's thief angers us. As it continues stealing from her, it also robs us of a wife, a mother and a confidante. Victims of crime must know the feeling. So much helplessness and frustration, the kindling for endless bonfires of bitterness.
So we remind ourselves to cling to the good days. Mum still has many of them. Nostalgia is the best way to make her smile and brighten her face. But there are also traces of resignation in her eyes.
She knows the thief isn't going away. He's stolen her home, one of her most treasured things. And he'll be back for more.
HAVE YOUR SAY: Have you had to place a family member in aged care? Has dementia had an impact on anyone you know? Is an ageing Australia prepared for the coming epidemic of Alzheimer's? Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
- Foreign investors buying existing homes or who leave properties vacant could face substantially higher fees and penalties under changes proposed by the federal government. The government has introduced legislation to triple the charge foreign investors will pay to purchase established homes and double the penalty they face for leaving a property vacant.
- A record 91,000 offenders acted with the intention to cause injury from 2022 to 2023. The data showed an eight per cent increase on the previous year, according to figures released on February 8 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. It was the highest number recorded in the 15 years.since the report began.
- An aged care worker has been charged after allegedly stomping on 95-year-old woman in his care. The 33-year-old man was charged with aggravated common assault over the attack in January at a Perth aged care facility, Western Australian police said on Thursday.
THEY SAID IT: "None of us wants to be reminded that dementia is random, relentless and frighteningly common." - Laurie Graham
YOU SAID IT: The conviction of an American mother who failed to prevent her son carrying out a school shooting has thrown a spotlight on parental responsibility for their children's actions.
Jennifer writes: "If we want to 'fix' the child's behaviour, we need to understand its cause and that essentially involves understanding their home environment, their parents, their school environment, their community and also the child. Behaviour is the result of the person interacting with their environment, not the person without any context. Labelling the child without understanding what they're dealing with in their lives is stupid."
"One gets into severe trouble online if a correction is made to someone's spelling or poor grammar, " writes Susan. "The same people responding in such unpleasant ways might be the very parents who consider their child is perfect and would never do anything bad! It is a great worry that many parents do not teach their children right from wrong!"
Lee writes: "This is a hard question. Yes, I think parents should be held accountable for what their children do, but there comes an age when parents no longer have control. Is that 16, 15? What if you're a single female parent and your boy is taller, bigger and scary? I think parents who don't act when needed are the parents who should be held to account."
"Youth criminality is not new, as you say." writes Bill. "In the 1950s and 60s as I grew up in the Far North Queensland bush, it was there. If I called a truck driver a boxhead, if it got back to my father, I got a clip on the ear and a kick up the arse. Stealing from shops, and we all did it, meant a dressing down and the strap back home. And the cops, 10 miles away, were never involved." But he's sceptical about the extent of youth crime. "In Queensland, where there is an election this year, and Rupert is backing the LNP, dear old Laura Norder is front page, every day. The LNP have no solutions to offer, just more noise. I am sure, once elected, and they seek to tighten bail laws, Treasury will point out that means building more jails and remand centres, and the question will be: which special projects does the Minister want to abandon?"
Miranda writes: "While we're all searching for someone to blame for kids' misbehaving - and the teachers I know say it's full-on in the classroom these days - I'd like to point to the role of neoliberal governments. Policies promoting economic growth since the 1970s have stripped away family time - for all parents. Most are now forced to work long hours to pay the rent or mortgages, so that the world I grew up in where at least one adult was home at most houses in my street every afternoon has disappeared. (In those days it was usually a mother, but no reason it couldn't be a father.) Parents struggle to keep the show on the road, with work, housework, shopping, kids' activities and caring for elderly parents. They are just not there in the afternoons to know when something's gone wrong - or right. There's little in the way of formal or informal networks supporting the kids or the parents."
"It's sad to say, but the poor behavior of the young in any society is a direct reflection on us all and the sit-back-and-watch attitude we have on the free hand of the market," writes Daniel. "As a grandfather, I watch my own children raising my grandchildren, having to deal with the challenges the modern world continually throws at them. As a parent I never had to deal with bullying through social media, or the constant connection to the whole world, warts and all, via our completely unregulated internet. And don't start me on cigarette companies exploiting our kids with vapes opening their path to drugs and poor mental health. All I had to do to protect my kids was to switch off the 'horror movie right there on my TV' each night. We all need to up our game and support each other more. No, don't throw the parents in jail. We're all guilty and none of us deserve the right to cast the first stone."
Sue writes: "In this day and age when you need a licence to do almost anything, two things stand out as not licence required: being a politician and being a parent. Perhaps there should be ongoing parenting classes for adults, including court required family classes when young people become involved in criminal and other antisocial behaviour. It might just improve some adult behaviour as well, although perhaps that is being optimistic."
"Do you remember Frank Thring?' asks Mark "At the end of the day's television transmission, usually around 11pm, up would pop Frank with a simple message: "It's 11 o'clock, do you know where your children are?' Most responsible parents did in those days. Maybe a gentle reminder is required today."