A Good Life - Frankie's Story
28 March 2022
Frankie has her good and bad days.
Her GP describes her memory like a lace curtain - some days are like the solid bits where she can recall a lot, and the bad days are the holes.
She is always shocked when she sees her own photograph, asking “who’s that old woman?”. When she is told it’s her, she is aghast, saying in her increasingly strong Scottish accent, “I’m not 94, I feel like 21”, and then she looks in the mirror and asks, “who the hell is that?”.
Although these accounts may sound comical, her youngest of two children Amanda (Mandy) reflects, “it’s a sad disease, dementia”.
Frances Hall, or ‘Frankie’ as she is more affectionately known, has lived a full and fascinating life. Born in Dundee, Scotland, she lived with her daughters Debbie, Amanda and husband Ray until 1966 before moving and spending many of her years in the small village of Hunwick in County Durham, England.
Ray worked in Lagos, West Africa, before his sudden death at age 47, when their daughters Debbie and Mandy were just 14 and 12. Although always very fit and agile - able to touch her toes well into her 80s - Frankie wasn’t very socially-minded, relying a lot on the support and friendship of her beloved family.
Mandy comments, “I came to Australia on a working holiday as a nurse in 1987 and Mum came out for a month at the end, and we travelled home together.”
Frankie would often remark to her daughters “you’re living in the wrong country; you should be living in Australia”. Mandy continues, “I came back to live permanently in Australia in 1990 and Mum had lots of holidays here, before Deb finally visited and decided to move her own family and Mum here in 2004.”
“Mum always said, ‘I do the best I can, and only when I can’t, then I ask for help’”, Mandy recalls. Years ago, before the irrationality of dementia set in, she would say to her daughters “you will know when to make the decision, you’ll know when I need help”.
But then as it crept closer, and Frankie started having trouble, she tried to keep it hidden and was adamant she didn’t need assistance. As her dementia progressed, she would obsessively press red buttons and flick off switches.
“Mum would put herself in danger sometimes trying to pull out cords, like from behind the TV”, says Debbie. “We started noticing little bruises on her, even a hole in the bathroom wall where she’d obviously fallen but she was hiding it from us”.
Frankie was determined to stay living independently at her home in Research for as long as possible, and with the help of her daughters and healthAbility’s In Home Care services, her wishes were fulfilled.
It was in 2017, when Frankie was in her late 80s, that her daughters had the Bundoora Care Team do an assessment which subsequently deemed her eligible for a Home Care Package of Level 2. This was later upgraded in 2019 to Level 4 when she deteriorated further and was deemed a falls risk.
Debbie, who works in aged care, had asked around about support services. But after seeing how well their mother’s neighbour was being looked after by healthAbility, they didn’t look any further.
Both women can’t talk highly enough about the care their mother has received from all of the healthAbility staff.
Speaking in absolute agreeance, they describe Support Workers Heather and Gayle as, “the two angels”, adding “they really became family”.
Heather even volunteered to take Frankie to Debbie’s son’s wedding, which was incredibly important for the family. It meant Frankie was able to bless the nuptials by wrapping a small piece of her traditional Scottish family’s tartan cloth around their hands.
healthAbility organised Support Workers to supplement the care given by Debbie and Mandy, attending to Frankie twice a day on weekdays, and briefly on weekends for a few months in 2021 too.
“We worried ourselves sick about the fact she wasn’t eating”, says Debbie. “Gayle was fantastic - she would make her little fresh meals of scrambled eggs on toast, omelettes or porridge, making sure she had a good breakfast.”
She was also very good at encouraging Frankie to get up and get dressed and take her medications. Heather would do some cleaning, give Frankie an early dinner and loved doing crosswords and jigsaw puzzles, whilst singing old Scottish songs with Frankie.
“That’s what we wanted, we wanted the interaction and companionship for Mum”, says Mandy. “They really went above and beyond, even walking Mum’s little dog when she was no longer able to do it.”
Frankie’s daughters and the Support Workers communicated effectively with each other through a large diary on her coffee table, letting each other know what had been done or needed to be attended to next.
“They were extremely reliable and trustworthy”, Mandy says, “if they ever got there five minutes late, they would work five minutes longer, or even more.”
Mandy adds, “they loved Mum, they still ring me now and ask how she is, and both of them have been to visit her”, in the aged care facility where she now resides since breaking her hip in late 2021. There Frankie has found a new community and is joining in sing-a-longs to her heart’s content.
Mandy fondly recalls one of her Mum’s regular sayings: “I get up every morning and I thank God for another day. If I was to go tomorrow, I’ve had a good life, you know.”
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