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What to do with Mum?

10 January 08 10:42 GMT

Broadcaster Tony Robinson reveals the guilt he felt when he put his mother, who suffered from Alzheimer's, into a care home.

People ask "why did you do it, how could you have done it?"

Well the first thing to say is that, for most of us, when that decision comes, we are exhausted.

You don't make that decision, by and large, unless you are at your wit's end and all other options seem to be closed off to you.

You are in a state of crisis and the one thing that you are offered which is likely to relieve that crisis is a care home.

I don't regret the decision that I made - putting my mum in a care home. I do not know what else I could have done.

I am not saying it was a great option, I am saying it was the best possible one out of all the limited options that were available, none of which were any good anyway.

Huge sack of guilt

Most people I know who have responsibility for people with Alzheimer's have guilt going most of the time - some level of guilt somewhere inside themselves.

For a start, a lot of people who have got Alzheimer's behave in such a difficult and distressing way that they are often unlike the person you once knew.

So there is a kind of rage at this person that you are confronted with: how dare you take away my mum, how dare you take away my dad and you are making me feel really upset and really nervous and really tired.

A great cocktail of guilt, I think, swirls round most of us.

One of my frustrations about this whole issue is the fact that we do not talk about it enough and there are people carrying this huge sack of guilt about with them all over England, thinking that they are really lousy people, when all they really need to know is that virtually everybody else who looks after someone with Alzheimer's feels exactly the same way.


When we are doing well, whether we are the carer or the person that we are caring for, it can be so rewarding.

It is not just rewarding for them - it is not just like an act of charity - but there is so much that we can get out of it too.

My mum was always very larky. She always liked having a good time and one of my memories of her in that old people's home - it sounds daft really and I'm not supposed to say old people's home, that's not particularly PC now - is buying a sherry trifle from the local supermarket, which she always liked.

I remember feeding it to her because taste is something that tends not to go as fast as the other senses.

I could see her relishing it and she would occasionally say something back to me between swallows, her eyes twinkling.


My mum didn't just have a relationship with me, she had a relationship with virtually every member of my family, although she could never remember who they were.

She knew who I was, I suppose because I am an only child.

I don't think she ever remembered who my son was, but she would flirt with him outrageously.

There was part of me in shock and horror, thinking how can this woman flirt with her grandson, how disgusting, and yet part of me thought it was wonderful.

Sometimes when we were in the room with strangers she felt much easier and would tend to communicate and show off.

But once she got used to the people who were providing her care, once she recognised their faces - and they were skilled enough to stop her getting frightened - she could relax.

I think the problem came when people dismissed her or stopped listening when she wasn't communicating clearly. They pretended to listen or pretended they were talking to her when they were really talking at her.

That just freaked her out. I don't blame her - I think that freaks everybody out.

Political will

Both my parents had dementia and I realised during the course of that quite what a vacuum there was where protection and concern for the infirm elderly should be.

By the time my mum died I was pretty angry about the whole thing.

Old people are completely marginalised from our society.

There is virtually no integrated training for looking after the elderly.

Although politicians are now beginning to talk all the right talk about Alzheimer's and care in the society, at the same time they are closing down the funding.

It is down to us - politicians will only act when they know that if they don't act they will lose our votes.

And if anyone is going to stop that happening it is going to be our generation.

But I think that in order to prevent the same abuses happening to us that are currently happening to our parents, we have all got to stop being polite about it, we have got to start getting dirty.

I want to be the first person who is sacked as an ambassador for the Alzheimer's Society because I have started breaking windows and chaining myself to metal railings.

The BBC's Care for the elderly season runs through January on Radio 4's You and Yours and Woman's Hour. Find out more at the website.

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