Visiting her father in a nearby nursing home every few days is a way of life for Leigh.
Her dad, now 89, has been a resident there for the past five years.
Initially he lived with Leigh and her husband and their two teenage children, but as his care needs grew, Leigh was unable to manage, as she has a full-time job working in an advertising agency.
“I love my work and there is no way I want to stop working to care for my dad full-time, which is what it would take if he were to come back home,” Leigh said.
“I am only 49, so I have a lot of career in front of me and I don’t want to give up a job that is stimulating and lots of fun. We have a great team and every day brings a new creative project or challenge.
“My husband works in a professional job as well, and that is what we enjoy doing. The jobs are rewarding in themselves, but they also give us the financial capacity to do a lot to help our family – we eat good food, we travel a lot, the kids go to good private schools, we pay for the best care possible for dad and he gets all the extra perks.
“When we made the decision that dad go into care, he was desperately unhappy about it. It was really tough on him. He kept on asking why we were taking him away and then, when we visited him at the nursing home, he would keep on asking when he was coming back home to live with us again.
“I did – and still do – feel conflicted about the decision at times. On the one hand, as a dutiful daughter, perhaps I should have left work to care for him full-time. He was a good father and we had a good life, so in one way, it would be my way of repaying him for that.
“On the other hand, none of my three siblings are living close enough to be able to help with his care. They all have lives of their own – families, businesses, careers. No-one wants to leave their life and move close to me to help look after dad and frankly, I think I would hate being a full-time stay-at-home carer doing it all on my own, even if I could physically manage it, which I can’t.
“Dad needs help with most things – he needs to be showered, he needs someone to prepare his meals and help him eat, he gets disorientated easily and wanders off and gets lost. He is frail and needs assistance to stand and walk. He has heart and kidney trouble and is on all sorts of medication. He doesn’t sleep much at night. He is incontinent. Sometimes he forgets who I am.
“With all of that to manage, plus two teenage children, a full-time job, and a house and garden, I simply can’t have dad at home. Even if I could somehow do it all physically, I think emotionally I would be resentful and miserable.”
Leigh manages to visit her father at least twice a week. She ensures that his medical needs are being met, and takes him to his various appointments. She brings him extra special foods he likes, the odd bottle of his favourite shiraz, a new talking book each week, the latest DVDs, and spends time sitting with him going through old family albums and family videos, which he particularly likes.
“It is very hard to bring him back home these days, as the house is not disability friendly, and he is in a wheelchair most of the time. It takes two of us to get him into the bathroom, for example, inch by inch. Dad finds using the loo, with two of us in attendance, an insult to his dignity, so it is very awkward.
“At the same time, he doesn’t want to leave once he is back in the house, and it is very stressful when it is time to return to the nursing home. We find it calmer for everyone if we just take him out somewhere nice for the day, and then bring him back to the nursing home.
“I don’t think there is any easy answer when your parents are ageing. You have to do what you think is best at the time.
“Mum died fairly quickly from cancer so we did not have a long time nursing her. Then dad came to live with us for a couple of years, but his presence in the house put a strain on the whole family.
“In the early days, we could just manage, as he was satisfied reading or watching TV through the day. But as the dementia progressed, and his frailty increased, things became unmanageable.
“The best I can do now is visit often and make sure he is getting the best care money can buy. It may not be the perfect solution, but at least dad knows I am still there and that I still love him.”