My Name is Len and I have Alzheimer’s Disease

Argus title : His name was Len. He had Alzheimer’s

Len Jordan died just over a year ago, on 5th April 2004. On the 17th August 2004 his wife and family stood on the Western side of the Pier and scattered his ashes to the wind and sea. Had he lived, he would have been 82 today.

Len was born in 1923 in South East London. The story goes that some time during the war, he was on a boat in the Channel. Looking back at the English coastline, he asked “What’s that place?”. “That’s Brighton” said a fellow soldier. “I’m going to live there one day” Len replied. And so he did.

Long before Brighton became the ‘place to be’ for fashionable incomers, there was already a firm link between Londoners and Brighton. Many of them moved down here after the war. Brighton was the better for it.

Len belonged to a large family of 7 children. They owned little, but they were happy. He was a mischievous, lively boy, always getting himself into scrapes.

And he was brave. As a teenager in the blitz, he pulled his badly injured sister May out of the ruins of a bomb shelter. May (79) speaks of him with love and pride.

He was called up at 17 and went to Africa with Montgomery. There he won letters of commendation for dragging an injured officer to safety. Later he participated in the D Day landings.

He was captured and as Allied victory loomed, was force marched from camp to camp as the Germans retreated. He had no boots and by the time he was liberated, no skin on his lower legs. His legs never recovered.

Once the war was over, Len travelled to Brighton. Entranced by the Palace Pier, he found a job there on the Hoopla stall. There he met and fell in love with Vera, who worked as a cashier on the Pier. They married and had three children.

As time went on he took on responsibility for the maintenance and painting of the pier. Later still, he worked for British Rail. The couple worked hard all their lives. They belonged to the generation who saved for their old age, never wanting to take anything from anyone.

Dramatic things tended to happen to Len. On one occasion he was blown up in an industrial accident. That further damaged his leg. On another occasion, he fell onto a live rail, but miraculously survived.

Len loved his wife and his children. His grandchildren were a blessing to him. He considered himself a very lucky man.

Then in 1996 his luck began to run out. Len began to forget the names of household items and to have trouble with using money. He’d come home with dozens of coins in his pockets because he found it easier to pay with notes. Eventually, Alzheimer’s Disease was diagnosed and he was prescribed Aricept (Donezipil). Vera became Len’s carer.

Alzheimer’s Disease changes people, but in different ways. Perhaps the cruellest change is when those who have been gentle and loving, cease to be so.

His daughter Debbie wrote: “Dad became a different person. That lovely, kind, caring man became aggressive, angry, unhappy and very distant”. Len would not accept help from outside agencies, so Vera bore the burden of care.

Vera is a tiny woman. She told me: “He was 6’2”. I had to wash him, shave him, dress him, and feed him.” Despite the support of her family, there was no real respite.

Eventually, her children had to make the difficult choice to request hospital admission. By this time Vera was near breaking point.

Len was 2 months in hospital. The family visited him regularly, but it broke their hearts when each time he would try to leave with them.

Debbie describes a long painful process of trailing around rest homes, each seemingly worse than the one before. Eventually, they found a haven for their father – a place called Swallow’s Lodge. Staff there loved Len. They accepted his occasional bad behaviour, realising that it wasn’t really ‘him’. Debbie told me “He could swear for England, but they’d just laugh”.

Though Alzheimers is a physical disease, the family knew that, like other sufferers in England & Wales, Len would have to pay for his own care. It cost Len and Vera £1,600 each month.

Swallows Lodge became their sanctuary. According to Debbie ”They treated Dad with love, care and most of all respect and we will be eternally grateful”. She recalled that even though he could be “cantankerous and uncooperative”, most of the time “he was a sweet, lovely shadow of his former self, giving me little gentle kisses and watching me as I used to dance around the room to make him smile.”

Len’s leg problems continued and he became confined to a wheelchair. Eventually he was admitted to hospital. This was a terrible time, because some staff didn’t understand the needs of people with dementia. They would leave his food and drink by him, not realising that he needed to be fed.

Vera visited everyday in order to ensure that Len did eat and drink. His leg worsened and eventually was amputated. He could have died then, but he hung on, as he’d once put it “like an old soldier”.

Debbie said “.. he battled to stay with us even though he didn’t even know us. I think us loving him so much kept his dear old heart beating..”

Even though he was in pain, had an infected open wound in his leg and was suffering from MRSA, Len was considered a ‘bed blocker’. The family had to fight to keep him in hospital.

His daughter says that on the day he died she and her mother found him lying drenched in foul-smelling effluent from his wound. He lay like that for at least three hours. Though they requested morphine, he died before it was provided, without complaint.

There had been a meeting scheduled the next day to discuss his discharge.

Alzheimer’s Disease affects 1 in 20 people over 65 and 1 in 4 over 80. It is a pandemic across the western world. And yet, in this country we force family members to bear the burden and costs of care.

There are insufficient residential placements. And though three quarters of people in long term care have dementia, only 1 in 10 care staff receive dementia training. As if families did not have enough to bear, the National Institute of Clinical Exellence (NICE) has recommended that the NHS cease to fund essential drugs for Alzheimer’s sufferers. This includes Aricept, which was prescribed for Len.

The Alzheimer’s Society nationally has launched an election manifesto. They have called for an end to charging for care; more places in specialist care homes; continued availability of drugs through the NHS; good quality respite care; dementia training for all care staff; early diagnosis; specialist home services to allow people to remain in their own homes; better benefits, including better financial supports for carers; and improved palliative care at the end of sufferers lives, preferably in their existing care setting.

The Society quotes a recent survey revealing that 79% of people believe that care needs arising from disease should be provided free of charge. Some 52% of those polled said that a political party’s position on charging for elderly care will affect the way they vote.

Len’s daughter, Debbie was frustrated by the apparent lack of awareness of some nursing staff when Len was in hospital. She placed a sign over his bed. It was regularly removed, but she replaced it over and over again.

It read: “My name is Len./ I have a condition called/ Alzheimers./ Sometimes it makes me grumpy./ Sometimes I’m angry and get/ frustrated./ But I am a father, a husband, a/ grandfather, a brother, a son, a/ cousin, a friend, an ex-serviceman,/ and sadly I am a patient. But above all I am a man,/ a good honest man./ My name is Len.”

There are many Lens, each of whom has made a unique contribution to our society. Now, frail and vulnerable, they are asking for our help – and we are failing them.

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