I've recently been in the exact same situation that a number of our customers and their familes find themselves in and I now know first-hand how difficult it is!
My father, Ken, 76, lives on his own and up until recently has been in fairly good health. He had been living in Edinburgh for nearly 20 years but 2 years ago returned back to Warwickshire to be closer to my sister (Judy) and I, plus his grandchildren and all his old friends. This took a number of years but eventually he thought it would be a good idea and rented a lovely 2-bedroom apartment overlooking Warwick racecourse. I had tried to get him to look at a retirement village but he didn't think it was for him. At the time, getting him back home was the most important aspect so I didn't push it any further.
He has had a kidney problem since childhood and has suffered with high blood pressure for a number of years but overall has always been a healthy chap. However, I started to notice that he was finding walking a lot harder and becoming short of breath. I mentioned this to him and was pleasantly surprised, although slightly worried, to hear that he had been to his GP - like most men, he only ever went to the doctors when really concerned!
Anyway, he reassured me it was to do with his kidneys and that he had been referred to the renal department of his local hospital. I suggested that I went on the next appointment with him but, being a fiercely independent person, he shrugged it off and said there was no need. The past 45 years told me I wasn't going to win the argument! Anyway the results came back to say that yes, he's kidneys weren't great and although not serious enough to need dialysis yet, be prepared for it in the future.
This news, along with his high blood pressure and all the associated potential risks, did worry my sister and I and many a telephone conversation followed between us on what was best for Dad. He obviously knew about me working for Richmond Villages so I suggested that he come and have a look around; no commitment, just have a look as I'm sure he would be pleasantly surprised.
This was last September and for his 75th birthday present I had secured some Rugby World Cup tickets - like most people I wasn't successful in my bid for England tickets so we went to the Wales v Fiji game who were in the same group as England. This resulted in quite a bit of walking and it became obvious that Dad was worse than he had been letting on. The game was brilliant and we had a great meal afterwards; a real special father and son night.
On the return journey the next day I broached the subject of moving again. Dad thought there would be no harm in looking (progress!) but let's leave it for another month, after his next hospital appointment.
Unfortunately mid-October saw my Dad's breathing become much worse and his GP took the decision to admit him to hospital for 'checks'. A number of tests followed and every day I could see my Dad going downhill. The ward had no bedside TV's and the WiFi wasn't strong enough to stream. So, there was my Dad sitting around all day with no stimulation; as he said 'I bet it would be better in prison!'
I discussed my concerns with the hospital who were reluctant to discharge him because a) they were trying to stabilise his kidneys and blood pressure drugs and b) they were concerned that with him being on his own he wouldn't be able to look after himself at home. I couldn't help thinking that if he was at a retirement village with the on-site care provided that I am sure he would have been discharged.
Eventually (two weeks later) dad was discharged. By this time his breathing was worse; he had been on oxygen earlier in the week but had been off it for 2 days. Dad was delighted to be back home although a long way from being better. I tried to convince him that rather than going straight home why didn't he go on a Richmond Retreat but he wasn't having it; 'maybe in a week's time' was his reply. A couple of days later his breathing was still not great but his demeanour was returning. Unfortunately a few days later he took a turn for the worse and, due to him being unable to stand up and on the advice of his GP, I called for an ambulance.
Arriving at Accident & Emergency really brought home to me how the growing elderly demographic is impacting on the NHS. Every bay was taken and my dad ended up on a trolley in the aisle before being put into the 'interview' room (he found this hilarious!). On talking to the nurse she said that my dad was one of the youngest patients in A&E at the time.
I'm sorry to say this story doesn't have a good ending. Within 2 days dad ended up on the ITU ward (intensive care) where it transpired his kidneys were failing and, along with a weak heart, he had now got pneumonia. The decision, taken in consultation with my dad, was to try emergency dialysis but unfortunately after 4 hours his heart just wasn't strong enough for it to continue. Judy and I were assured that Dad was in no pain and we were fortunate to be with him when he passed away. How ironic that after having high blood pressure for years one of the causes of his death was low blood pressure - Dad would have laughed at that! The ITU unit was absolutely outstanding with remarkable and amazing staff.
My Dad always said to me 'never look back' but after these experiences you can't help. I am not convinced anything would have ultimately been different but I do wish I had at least got him to visit a retirement village before he committed to the flat in Warwick. He, like most people, would have been surprised at the quality and what they provide - so much more than just a property to live in. He would have loved the social side of living in such a community. I am also convinced his initial stay in hospital would have been reduced which would have been so much better for his wellbeing and a huge saving to the NHS. But don't worry Dad, I'm not looking back with regrets. I miss you terribly but our Rugby World Cup trip where we were Fijians for the night will be with me for the rest of my life!
If you are in the same situation or have any comments/questions, then I would love to hear from you.