Sometimes when I go to my Nan's house, she's pretty lucid. She seems to remember me - not my name, but just that she has a deep, unexplained affection for me. Other times, its 1948 and she is still an 18 year old dancer on the stage. The first time she met my boyfriend was one of these times; she displayed alarming flexibility for an 85 year old and gracefully showed him she could put her foot on the mantlepiece.
She had a stroke two years ago which was the beginning of a very quick descent into vascular dementia. My mum - her only child - had some terrifying experiences, showing up at Nan's house when nobody answered the phone, only to find it empty. Nan would go out for hours and nobody - including her - knew where she'd been. We ended up seeking help, and my Nan now has carers visiting her every day, as well as my mum, who does the hour round trip to her house five times a week.
In the north east, where I grew up and where my mum and two grandmothers both still live, services for elderly people have been slashed unashamedly. In 2014, the last of Durham's council-run care homes was closed, leaving a percentage of the County's old people effectively homeless. 83 year old Don Robson protested by remaining at his old people's home after it closed, to no avail.
As a family, we are lucky. My Grandma, who lives in Durham, is in remarkably good health; and my Nan lives in Gateshead, coming under a different jurisdiction for care. I am terrified that my Grandma's health will deteriorate, because I know that there is no available help if that happens.
That being said, the care contract that my Nan benefits from - and I use the term loosely - is no longer run by Gateshead council. It was sold in a PFI contract. There is virtually no accountability there. Carers are given half hour slots with each patient, paid minimum wage, and not paid for travel time between visits - meaning that they do not even make minimum wage in an hour. At best, they have time to put a meal in the microwave and change the channel for my Nan. These are good people. The vast majority of them are doing it because they give a shit. But the conditions they're expected to work in mean that doing their job to the best of their ability is virtually impossible.
To add insult to injury, last week, the contract for my Nan's care company changed hands. Nobody came to visit her. In the switchover, Nan's details were lost, and the new company denied any knowledge of her existence.
Thank God she has my mum, I kept thinking. But the other, darker, more sickening thoughts kept creeping in. Thank God it was my Nan, and not a childless widower. Please, please tell me that there isn't another old lady out there, waiting for her dinner. Because she'll be dead by the time they realise their mistake. And who the hell can be held accountable for the wellbeing of old people, for their pains and discomforts, for their deaths, due to neglect, when the government so happily turns a blind eye?
When I saw David Cameron heckled by pensioners at the Age UK conference, my heart swelled. Watching him say that his government had given people 'dignity and security in old age' was the biggest load of shit I've seen in some time, and my cat had diarrhoea last week. Pre dementia, my Nan would have been shouting the loudest. I'm really glad there are still people who share her lived experiences that are willing to do it for her; it seems like nobody else is.