My husband and I are struggling with elderly parents at the moment. We all have an inkling, I suppose, that our parents getting older can be a difficult time, but it's not until you're in the midst of it that you fully appreciate all that this entails.
At the moment we live in fear of the phone ringing, because one of our parents has fallen a couple of times recently. They have a bracelet around their wrist which allows them to contact a private company that can call an ambulance if they are unwell or have fallen -- otherwise how would anyone know, with them living alone? That's positive, of course, but it's not straightforward.
The foremost problem is that, once called, it takes ages for the ambulance to come -- over four hours, last time. So, you are left with an elderly person lying on the floor in the cold unable to get themselves up. Once the ambulance arrives, the staff are absolutely great, but it's the wait that's the problem.
An added problem is that the company that calls the ambulance doesn't have a call back number, so while they will ring to tell you that your relative has fallen and an ambulance has been called, there is no way of ascertaining when the ambulance has arrived or how long it might be. If you live at a distance from your parent, this leaves you with a huge dilemma -- do you embark on a journey of several hours to reach them or will the ambulance get there first? Last time, not wanting to call 999 when they were clearly so busy, we had to resort to scrabbling around on the Web for possible non-emergency numbers to ring in a bid to get hold of any information.
Social care is another problem. Social services will only visit the elderly on a regular basis if they are incapable of looking after themselves and are in need of personal care, i.e. help with getting out of bed, washing and dressing. If an elderly person is capable of doing these things, then they are judged to be able, but of course there are other things that they may need help with. For example, they become reliant on meals-on-wheels services and hired domestic help if they are not up to cooking or cleaning.
It can also be difficult to persuade elderly relatives to do things that would actually be helpful to their situation. We have suggested joining befriending networks of other elderly people and even hiring someone to help with transport to events, appointments, etc., but with no luck so far.
What we have really learnt from all of this is how important it is to plan ahead. We all need to acknowledge the fact that we will get old (however unwelcome the notion) and think in advance about how we will deal with this and the help that we may need to organise.