Mom was vibrant, energized, spunky and alive on November 16, 2012, the day she was placed in a nursing home. I spent the next three weeks trying to get her settled into a new way of living. It was clear to me from the outset that the facility in which she had been placed was ill-equipped to properly care for people who live with dementia. But I wasn’t in control of her care, there was little I could do. I spent as much time as I could with her for the better part of three weeks. On December 1, we attended the facility’s Christmas dinner. I filmed her singing carols; she was beautiful, healthy and engaged:
On December 6, I went to Alberta to be with friends for a much-needed break from full-time care partnering. I was worried about Mom, but I knew Caroline would see her regularly, and I would return mid-January to be with them both again. How much could go wrong in such a short time? A lot as it turned out.
Within two weeks of my departure, they started giving Mom quetiapine (Seroquel) in the morning; previously, she had only taken it at night in small doses to help her sleep. When she had begun taking it the year before, I didn’t fully comprehend the dangers of antipsychotic drugs, nor did I understand how prevalent they are in Canada, particularly in Quebec. But I quickly learned the effect Seroquel had on Mom – it knocked her out cold. The effects of the increased dose and frequency were cleare when I spoke to her on the phone from Alberta, her words were slurred, her voice monotone, she sounded depressed, she couldn’t sing jingle bells. I asked them to stop giving i her the drug to her. Then I begged them to stop giving it to her. My pleas were ignored.
She wasn’t being properly toileted and/or changed (I would see the evidence of that when I got back) and she soon came down with a urinary tract infection (UTI); treatment for which began on Christmas Day. Three days later, I wrote a worried email to the director of nursing (DON):
“Please tell me how Patti is. When I talk to the nurses, they say she is fine and getting better, but when I speak with her on the phone she sounds terrible: shaky, extremely confused, voice slurred, slow rate of speech. She is not at all the same person I left in good physical health three weeks ago. I’m really worried…. 🙁 Is she still being given the Seroquel in the morning?”
I got no reply to the Seroquel question. Our angel Caroline broke her wrist on New Year’s Eve; she would never see Mom again. Sometime during that week, Mom’s left leg began to swell. She was sent to the hospital by ambulance on January 10, spent a week there and was returned to the care facility on January 17. I got back the next day and was shocked by her demeanour. The woman I had left six weeks prior seemed to have vanished.
On January 19, I found her lying in bed half dressed in her “street clothes” with her nightgown over her trousers and under her sweater. She had obviously tried to get ready for bed by herself and got confused. She was dopey from medication, could hardly keep her eyes open:
On January 21, I went to see Mom first thing in the morning; she was listless and depressed; she didn’t even want to sing. This would have been unthinkable just two months earlier:
I immediately wrote to the person in control of her care with a cc to the DON a the facility:
“During the first few weeks of Mom’s stay at the facility, she seemed to be adjusting fairly well despite periods of high anxiety, and wanting to “go home.” Six weeks ago Mom and I played catch in the hall outside her room. She was able to easily go up and down the stairs, her eyes were clear and bright. She was in good physical shape. She has declined more in the last six weeks than she has in the last two years. Her drug regime was changed; she became lethargic and listless.She’s had a UTI and was hospitalised for thrombosis. She shuffles down the hall holding on to the railing instead of walking confidently as she used to just a month ago. Much of her spark and energy are gone. The stuffing has really been knocked out of her. I believe this could have been prevented to a large degree.”
I was so distraught at what was happening to Mom that, over the 2012/13 festive season, I had set legal wheels in motion to try to gain control of her care. Those wheels of injustice would eventually grind to a halt in March 2014. Mom died on August 17, 2016; and I continue to advocate so others might not have to suffer what she did.