A FAMILY has told of their heartbreak as their dementia-stricken mum will spend Christmas alone in a care home with no visitors.
Rachael Thomas, 52, hasn’t seen her mum and gran-of-six Kathryn Smith, 75, in six months – but says a festive visit just “isn’t worth the risk”.
With swathes of the country plunged into Tier 4 restrictions, and festive bubbles cut to one day only, thousands of Brits are facing a lonely Christmas this year.
But the last-minute crackdown is set to bring further agony for dementia patients amid a growing epidemic of loneliness in care homes.
Hopes were raised in Autumn as ministers pledged to roll out mass ‘lateral flow’ tests to enable care home visits over the festive period.
While indoor visits are allowed for those who test negative, the emergence of a highly contagious new strain in the South East of England has raised fresh fears of the bug getting into homes.
Before her mum’s dementia, Rachael remembers “boisterous” and “fun” family Christmases with mum Kathryn and her three younger brothers at her grandma’s house in Gloucester.
But this year, the family has decided to protect Kathryn who will spend Christmas Day alone in Juniper House care home in Worcester.
Rachael told The Sun Online: “Initially I thought a visit might be possible, but two weeks ago it dawned on me that Christmas is not going to be Christmas.
“As a family we’re just all staying on our own this year. I think it’s the safest way.
“I’d never forgive myself if I gave her the virus. She has heart failure so she’s got underlying health problems.”
“Wonderful” Kathryn spent most of her life working as a caterer for BUPA hospitals in Worcestershire, but “found her calling” later in life as a piano teacher who was equally adept at playing Edward Elgar and Top 40 hits.
She brought joy to hundreds of students, who ranged from young children to old age pensioners – but tragically lost her musical ability as dementia took hold.
Rachael, who runs a farm near Carmarthen, West Wales with her husband, first noticed a change in her mum early in 2019, as she would struggle to follow recipes and lose things around the house.
She said: “It would take her an hour to make a sandwich in the house because she couldn’t understand where things were and what she needed.
“If I took her to the supermarket she would walk around like a lost child because she was so far out of her comfort zone.”
She looked at me with an expression of pure shock, horror and numbness
Rachael on her mum's Alzheimer's diagnosis
Eventually, Rachael sat down with Kathryn and Malcolm, her partner of twenty years, and explained it was time to go to the doctor’s for a check-up.
She said: “The suggestion she could have dementia made her so angry that fortunately she went to the surgery the next day and demanded to speak to the doctor.”
At this stage, Rachael says her mum was in “dementia denial” – and was aware something was wrong but could not do anything about it.
‘GONE FROM MY LIFE’
The family spent an agonising few months getting power of attorney and taking control of Kathryn’s affairs as the disease worsened – and she eventually received an official diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia in September 2019.
Rachael added: “I will never ever forget her face when me, my daughter and Malcolm sat in a room with specialists and we said: ‘Mum, you’ve got Alzheimers.’
“She looked at me with an expression of pure shock, horror and numbness.”
Kathryn moved into the care home two months later, and initially seemed to be settling in – until the pandemic suddenly brought all visits to a halt in March.
Rachael said: “There was no communication really during lockdown. For all intensive purposes she was gone from my life.
“I would laminate pictures of our family life that I picked up around the house and post them to the care home, hoping she would pick them up.”
Rachael did not see her mum until June, when garden visits to care homes were allowed. She visited again the following month.
She said: “The first time she was pleased to see me and happy to talk.
“But the second time she came out and just burst into tears. I couldn’t go over to her and hug her to make her feel better. I had to be brusk and say: ‘Don’t cry now’.
“I felt like I was treating her like a child. It was so upsetting.”
Rachael fears that “precious time” has been lost during the pandemic, as her mum’s worsening condition makes Christmas next year feel increasingly difficult.
She added: “The progress of the disease is fast with her. So it’s robbed us of the last few memories we could make with her.
“I just dread going there and her not knowing who I am. If she can recognise me I’ll be thankful for that at least.”
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Rachael has since devoted herself to raising money for Alzheimer’s and dementia charities in a bid to raise awareness of the issue.
She hopes to walk 26 miles in the Brecon Beacons next year, after tackling the Great Wall of China in 2017 for the British Heart Foundation.
You can donate to The Alzheimer’s Society’s Christmas Appeal or start your New Year by taking on a trek in 2021 to raise money here.