Page last updated at 05:32 GMT, Monday, 2 June 2008 06:32 UK

'Happy in a foreign world'

Janet Davey and her mother Joan
Joan thinks she is in her late 30s

As the Today programme begins a major series examining the care of the elderly in the UK, one listener spoke to her mother about life in her care home.

Joan Davey has the sunniest of demeanours. She laughs a lot, loves listening to classical music and is "perfectly happy" with her lot in life. She has a daughter, Janet, who loves her and visits her regularly. She is well-dressed, well-fed and well-looked after, in a good care home.

But Joan has no idea how old she is and how long she has been there.

She calls it a "semi-coma" but she is far from bitter about it. In fact, Joan is in the last stages of Alzheimer's.

Tea and cake

Visiting her mother, Janet finds her in the lounge, drinking tea, eating cake and having a chat with another resident called Vera.

"Oh, is her name Vera? I didn't know that," said Joan. "But it's very nice to know. Thank you, I shall remember that."

Joan has just finished lunch and she enjoyed it but she cannot remember what she enjoyed. Janet tells her can choose what to have for supper.

I don't know how old I am. How old am I?
Joan Davey

"I didn't know that," she said. "You see I haven't been here very long."

How long has she been at the home? Joan thinks she has been there for just a day, a week at the most.

In fact, she has been there for three-and-a-half years.

"What? Blimey, I didn't know that," she said. "Oh dear, it's dreadful Janet. I let things go so. I don't know how old I am. How old am I?"

Joan is genuinely shocked to hear she is 94. She says: "I don't think of myself as being in the 90s, I think in the late 30s."

"I know I am getting on a bit and I know it happens," she said.

"Although I wish I wasn't forgetful, I've never done anything that was frightfully wrong so far."

Joan believes she is one of the lucky ones as her daughter is able to visit regularly and stay for a while. She says Janet keeps her "alive and going".

"You see, it's really a foreign world and you make it much more normal," she said.

Future concern

Like many in her situation, Janet's mother moved herself into the care home when caring for her reached crisis point. And she says she is "perfectly happy" and would like things to go on as they are.

She realises it would be too much to stay with Janet.

"You've got a family to look after and I certainly don't think I ought to stay with you. It would make me unhappy if I lodged myself with you," she said.

Joan says the home goes "very near" to being a replacement family.

"It's incredible isn't it, some people sort of give up but there's no reason for it as far as I'm concerned," she says.

"I'm awfully well-looked after. People are very nice and happy. It's a marvellous place really."

What Joan does not want is to cause her family any financial hardship. She also does not want to be alone.

"It's terrible to know that you're getting old and facing something that's difficult. I haven't. I have gone very easily from one place to another," she said.

Janet's view

And for Janet, as she leaves her mother? "Mixed feelings fill my mind," she says. "I wonder, of the two of us, who is ultimately the more confused?"

You see, my mother has made things very easy for me. She moved into her care Home to help me. We were at crisis point. And despite her Alzheimer's, she in essence was, and is, the same
Janet Davey

Elements of guilt, sadness, loneliness and apprehension are her overriding feelings.

"I have also, on occasions, felt misunderstood, distressed and full of tears. It's tough hewing a path of care for someone with Alzheimer's in a society that little appreciates its elderly. And all too often fails to provide high quality care," she says.

"I also feel privileged and valued. And through caring for my mother, the warmth of simple unconditional love."

She says those mixed feelings include gratitude - that there are people in that home who care for her whole-heartedly.

Janet adds: "You see, my mother has made things very easy for me. She moved into her care home to help me. We were at crisis point. And despite her Alzheimer's, she in essence was, and is, the same: generous, caring, grateful, appreciative, and startlingly incisive, even with muddled words.

"She sees and hears things of beauty with amazement. To her, they are always fresh and new. She remembers poetry, music, her own childhood with happiness. And makes very clear - above all, my own children are unconditionally valued. They, not her, must always come first.

"From my mother, as ever, I continue to learn."

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