Wednesday, 3 August 2011

There have been four universities

in Australia involved in some research called the "Aged Care in General Practice Project". The aim is to develop a test which will allow general practitioners to detect and manage memory problems among older people.
My father has, at the request of his old GP, been involved in this and so have a number of other people I know. There is nothing wrong with my father's memory. Like everyone else he forgets things occasionally but, for his age, he has a remarkably good memory. His mind is active. He can still seek a solution to a problem and learn something new. He gets up each morning wondering how he will manage to do all he wants to do not how he will fill in his day.
I know I am lucky, very lucky. It makes my father much easier to care for.
As part of the project I also talked with two people who were part of the research team. The first of these was the person who came to see my father in his home setting. As his "carer" I was also interviewed. I think this person was slightly startled by my father's inquiries about the research and how they hoped to develop the test! There are probably not too many people of my father's age who still read psychology.
The second person I spoke to rang because my father missed a question on the second test his GP had to give him twelve months later. As my father came home and told me he had done this and it relates to something he has done all his life nobody was concerned but the follow up questions had to be asked. The researcher and I then talked about other things - many of them to do with how the project might or might not relate to people whose first language is not English. It was not, at the time, something they had given a lot of thought to and I was surprised given the infinitely varied nature of our population.
Yesterday I came across an excellent reason to be concerned about this. A friend rang because she was worried about her neighbour. The neighbour is Greek. Her husband died a short while ago and this woman now lives alone. My friend went in to the neighbour because the power was not on.
My friend discovered that she had not paid the bill and that there was also another unpaid bill. She was afraid her neighbour was not coping and wondered what she should do about it.
So I asked the, to me, obvious question. Can her neighbour read English? There was a moment of silence at the other end of the 'phone and then, "I didn't think of that. I don't think she can."
Much later I had another telephone call. That was the problem. In the chaos surrounding her husband's death this elderly woman thought he had paid the electricity bill before he died. She thought the other notice was a receipt. She was acutely embarrassed.
In future my friend will give her some discreet help to read what needs to be read. And no, this elderly woman is not "losing it" at all. She expressed her gratitude for the help and understanding with a plate of freshly baked Greek shortbread biscuits.
I will be interested to see what the research study comes up with and what they have to say about this issue.


Ann said...

Well done you to wonder if it was a matter of language. I too am surprised the researchers did not think of non-English speakers or readers. Even with this oversight it sounds like a wonderful program.

Anonymous said...

It is Cat's job to think about these things so not surprising - and she alerted the researchers to the problem so it should now have been taken into account. Ros

JO said...

There is also some research that when people who spend most of their lives working in a second language lose that ability when they have serious memory problems in old age. It worries my old neighbour - who is Swedish. Her English is perfect, but she is terrified of ending up in a home with no-one able to understand the language she grew up with.

catdownunder said...

Jo,it is more likely to happen when people are illiterate in their first language as well. My job involves helping people to cross language barriers so it was my first thought but it would not necessarily be the first thought of most people. Why would it be? Most people would be quite unaware that many elderly Greek-Cypriot migrants like this woman had almost no schooling.
Ask your neighbour which language she dreams in Jo. If she dreams in English she is likely to be able to go on using it - not a very scientific "test" but a good indicator.