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The joys and challenges of caring across the sea

Although it was not easy, I’m grateful I had that time with my Mum when she probably needed me most.

I always felt extremely blessed to have an amazing Mother, she gave me all the love and support I ever needed. My family moved across the world, to Australia, so far away from Mum in beautiful Dorset, in England. We didn’t know how our decision to move to the Sunshine State would make it incredibly hard for me to share that love and support.

My children were the first to notice the early changes in Mum. She made less contact by phone or letter, she missed a birthday, her vocabulary was smaller and simpler. We assumed this was just “age related”.

But when Mum came to visit us here in Australia, we realised that things were not right. On each Scrabble move, Mum needed to check the number of letters used. She still loved our dog but could not remember her name. She was the same, but different. We worried… talked to her about it… guessed… and then worried more.

When Mum returned to the UK she went to her doctor who gave her a diagnosis of dementia. She was somewhat relieved. It accounted for her fumbling for the right word, her frustration at herself at forgetting and losing things.

We were, in all honesty, devastated.

How could this funny, loving, guiding person, with no other ailments, have dementia? How could we all support and show our love and care from so far away?

We introduced easy to use technology to enable video calls. We listened more attentively to what was and wasn’t being said. And we planned regular visits to England, my children as young adults went and spent time drinking Pimms in her garden. Mum felt a bit isolated when we were not there, so we also talked to Mum’s friends.

A few years before, we had as a family all talked through our wishes for the future, and together had recorded Mum’s thoughts and wishes. This was to prepare for when Mum, got to the stage where she was not sure what a decision was! This planning, at the time when everyone was together, was now much valued as we knew that we were doing the right thing from Mum’s viewpoint, even when she could not express or recall that. I would urge people to tackle these discussions early, my children were young adults and learned so much more about their grandmother from this.

During my visits to Dorset, I found out more about care in the community. There was a delightful day care centre, where they offered social contact, plus opportunity for simple spa like treatments. This certainly had a place for both personal care, and relaxing. Mum enjoyed it for a while, then changed her mind and did not wish to go. Mum was very against having what she considered “strangers” in her house. This made it hard, or near impossible, for paid home support services.

Mum came for a lengthy stay of 5 months in Australia. We tried to involve her in everything, and although she was happy to be with us, it was clear that she was missing the familiarity of her daily life at home. Having her live with us permanently here was, sadly, not an option she chose to take.

I made the decision that I would return to live in the UK to support Mum. I found work in the town where she lived, rented a small flat, and announced my arrival when I got there! This was not an easy change but was made possible by my family caring for my pets and my home. I missed my children and friends; it also was expensive with all the flying back and forth between Australia and the UK. I stayed for 3 years until Mum passed away.

Although it was not easy, I’m grateful I had that time with my Mum when she probably needed me most. She even remembered my name near the end.


Managing changes
There are many things you can do at home to make managing changes easier. Read these pages:
Talking and planning for now and the future
Talking about the dementia diagnosis can help you express your feelings and support each other, and ensuring plans for the future are in place.