The Little Girl in the Radiator (Mum, Alzheimer’s & Me) – Martin Selvin published by Monday Books

Front cover

Front cover

Back cover

Back cover

Very accessible and readable. This book follows the experience of a son and primary carer from the point at which his mum is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
There is plenty of light in this account and I was banned from reading this in bed when I couldn’t stop myself from snorting with laughter over the mother and son visit to dog obedience classes. The experience of loss is very vividly illustrated and the most distressing part of the book concerns his mum’s experiences in the first care home.
It is of course one person’s perspective and one family’s experience but it has a huge amount to say about memory loss, cognitive difficulties and the response of medical and social services. I felt it had some really helpful ways of thinking about this type of progressive memory loss, in particular the consultant who likens the loss of memory to rolling up a carpet, where we stand at one end of a long carpet (in the present) and the other end of the carpet represents the early life of the person with memory loss. As the carpet is rolled away from the present the person’s recall and connection with the present is lost, inaccessible within the rolled up carpet. The more the carpet is rolled up the further in time the person has to go back to find a point in their life that they remember (and this becomes their frame of reference).
This book feels like it would further the understanding of health and social care professionals who are working alongside families and individuals especially when we struggle to come to terms with how the reality of a person with cognitive impairment can be so different to our own. I am guessing that if you are a carer some of what is described will resonate with you own experience.
Not surprisingly this book has won the “BMA Board of Science ‘Chair’s Choice’ Book of the Year Award”.
It is available as an e-book and appears on the “Books on Prescription” list of personal stories of living with dementia published by the Reading Agency in September 2014.

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12 thoughts on “The Little Girl in the Radiator (Mum, Alzheimer’s & Me) – Martin Selvin published by Monday Books

  1. Reblogged this on quirkybooks and commented:
    Hi everyone

    This is a powerful book review read, written by one of my blogging students.

    I haven’t read this book, but I can relate to this post, because I was not happy about the way my Grandma was treated in the nursing home, which she died in last year, on Friday 13th of June. There were a few staff who was nice to her, but when she died, the chair in her room was riddled with wee stains. When I went to visit her one day she was upset when I got there because they refused to take her to the toilet in the night. When I confronted a nurse about it, she said the residence go to the toilet before bed and one other time at 3am, she has a pad to pee into. It was disgusting and it makes me angry they treated her that way. There was a lot of stuff I was not happy about in that nursing home and I am so glad that she no longer has to put up with that.

    What I don’t like, is society seems to think that memory loss (dementia) is a blanket term for anything that person (with dementia) says, is not true, because they don’t know their own mind. This is not actually always true. It can be an excuse for the nursing home to treat residents like, how can I put it politely, with no respect or dignity (worse than they would treat an animal) and use the un-‘fact’ that their mind isn’t working properly, as an excuse to fool the families who only like to think good about the home. I could ‘see’ what was really happening and some people dear to me, couldn’t or chose not to. I have never spoken to you about this before. I have kept it a secret and moved on with my life. I could not prove what was happening, the owner of this private nursing home, seemed not to care. I had meetings with two Managers and was under threat with being banned from the nursing home for, it would seem, interfering.

    I could tell you more. I could tell you about the fact they kept residents in the lounge waiting to go to the toilet, and poor old (S) had to wait twenty minutes before they came back to take him. By that time he had pulled his trousers down to reveal his pants, he was that desperate to go. This was an occurrence I had seen before, including the pulling down of his trousers and a half an hour wait. An insider also confirmed that one nurse did shout at residents. Just as I suspected things were not as they seemed, they weren’t.

    So, I have finally come out with what you weren’t expecting. This book review has sparked me off in this direction. It’s amazing what the power of the written word can do.

    Keep writing and keep blogging, keep being you and trusting your gut instincts, despite what anyone else says.

    My Grandma would want me to move on with my life and fulfil my goals, ambitions and dreams, not waste time trying to prove the nursing home did wrong. I had no solid proof anyhow. That is why more than ever I want to accomplish everything I set out to do in my life, so she will look down from the heavens and say ” that’s my Sandra and I love that kid.” I haven’t cried about my Grandma in ages, but now I am. I miss her and love her so much. It’s my birthday on Friday 24th of April and that was the last time I saw her before the night she died. My Grandma didn’t have that much dementia when she was with me – in terms of memory, she remembered and told me about a birthday card that she had written for me, prior to my birthday, and asked me did I get it. I said no it wasn’t my birthday yet, but thanked her so much. If she wasn’t in her ‘right mind’ she wouldn’t have remembered this. I have unconditional love for my Grandma and did then too – It’s this that eased her mind. I told her she had memory loss, she was 96 – So how much of her condition was dementia or simply loss of memory due her age, I guess we will never know. What I can say, is the doctor was called to the nursing home when I was there one night. The doctor said it was not dementia that was causing her such confusion, but the fact she was dehydrated from lack of fluids that the nursing home was responsible for giving her – Again – An outsider would not think about stuff like this. I have the ability to see things that others can’t. Sometimes I can see things for as they really are.

    So next time you have a relative or friend in a care home and the care home staff are blaming the ‘dementia’ for what your friend or relative is telling you is bad about being in the nursing home, think twice…….ask yourself…..

    Are they covering up?
    Is your friend or relative confused because of a lack of care – not enough fluids, or food, or poor sanitation leading to water infections and not because of ‘dementia’.
    Is their dementia really that bad, that they don’t know what they are saying at all?

    My Grandma was not in the dementia ward and she didn’t have full blown dementia. Some doctors said her memory loss was partly to do with her age, at other times it was a water infection.

    I know some people have full blown dementia, I get that, but what about the ones that ‘are not that bad’ to be in that ward. Is it being used as an excuse to not care enough to give proper care??? Something to think about.

    If you have Liked this post, thank you. It would be great if you could show my student some blog loving by Liking her original post that I have reblogged, on her own blog. Thanks in advance for doing that.

    Embrace Your Quirky and write soon
    Sandra

    Like

  2. having delt with my own Mother who lived with me for 5 years and then in a nursing facility for 3…Dementia was not her illness…
    She lived to be 98 …and I did see that the real cause for concern was lack of adequate help…too many patients for the number of staff!…so my sister and myself saw her every day …taking turns…sometimes twice a day!
    I now work with Seniors with dementia at the YMCA… and I will brag on our care… and recommend our program before the degree of this illness gets to the point for another type of facility!

    Like

    1. Hi,

      I’m so sorry not to have replied sooner but we’ve been away and away from Wi-Fi. Thank you for sharing your experiences with your mother. Well done to you and your sister! When I worked as an auxiliary (or health care assistant) it really made me wonder at the huge resilience and energy it must take to be caring for someone at home. As a paid carer you get the luxury of time away and some emotional distance and looking after a family member you don’t get either of those. It seems that nursing facilities and residential homes fall way short of the care we would want for ourselves and our families and you hear that all too often, it was certainly the case for Martin Selvin’s mum in this book. Here, at least in hospitals, there is a push for a 1:8 ratio of nurses to patients following the “Francis report” on poor hospital care in Mid Staffordshire. I’ve never worked in a residential home but having enough staff must be really important to delivering good care.

      My Nana had a list of health issues (no dementia) the one which took her to hospital most often was osteoporosis so falling and breaking bones became a regular occurrence once she was into her 80’s. The first time I saw my Nana in a residential home it was designed to for 2 weeks rehabilitation, clean and well run, although she had a long list of complaints because she thought she should have been allowed to stay in her local hospital – but that is a whole other story. She went very reluctantly into a private care home but the first one she chose she chose for ease of access for her local visitors. Past the posh lobby it was pretty appalling – including sticky carpets where you couldn’t see much of the pattern and a general smell of wee. Fortunately while she was there she didn’t need much care because despite the amazing price I think the quality of care was probably similar to the carpets. I’m pleased to say we found her somewhere else where I believe she did get decent care and visitors and no more broken bones.

      Are the seniors resident at the YMCA or do they come in for care during the day? It takes a really special person to work with people with dementia as it can be pretty challenging. I am hoping to get back to training as a nurse and I am always keen to learn as much as possible about working with people with dementia. It can be a very frustrating experience without any understanding of how a person with dementia might view the world and if you can’t communicate effectively it is hard to feel you have given someone the best care.

      There is another book I’ve read on kindle which might be of interest “What they don’t tell you about Alzheimer’s” by B.G.Bernstein, again written by a son caring for his mum but in the US .

      Must go as the cat has found me and is trying to stop me typing!

      Thanks for the follow, really nice as I’m new to blogging!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The participants come in daily Monday-Friday…some less…some more…
        Self paid …although medicaid/medicare will contribute some from my understanding…Veterans too!…After being there a year now…part time since I’m retired from the school system…I have learned a lot about these patients…We do crafts…have breakfast, lunch and snack…Have to change some…Wheelchairs…and mostly entertain, wait on them, teach lessons, talk…
        I love it!…
        When they get to bad mentally/physically …usually it’s time for their caregivers to find a more suitsble place any way…
        We have a nurse on duty at all times…
        wishing you luck with your blog…you will enjoy it!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Sounds like a lively stimulating environment at the YMCA and a satisfying place to work.
        Have you come across reminiscence therapy and life story work? I came across these interventions researching for my last essay at Uni.
        One of the libraries in Devon has put together some old suitcases full of everyday objects from the past to lend out. The objects are then used to trigger memories and discussions.
        The life story work allows participants to share memories with others and help to maintain a sense of identity.
        Working with veterans sounds really interesting. Could be particularly challenging if they have experienced unresolved PTSD. Not something I’ve ever seen any work published on but as WWII veterans and others age it going to be increasingly relevant.
        Sandra has been a great inspiration with blogging and I’m looking forward to working my internet connection this week : )

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear ‘TomTheSnail’,
    That’s no problem.
    Coincidentally the next book on my long to be read pile is ‘Do No Harm.’
    I enjoyed your review and I’m looking forward to reading it.
    Very best wishes and keep blogging!
    Sam

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tried not to give away any plot spoilers, so there is plenty to enjoy. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did : ) TTS
      P.S. Also posted my review of “The Little Girl…” on Amazon in the hope that helps you guys.

      Like

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