Locked in prison

The human cattle yards for aged care and dementia are playing on my mind again. As many of you know, my father in law has moved into another residential care facility because he now needs high care, one with a brand new private room (rare in high care in SA), in a brand new wing. This morning, after his first night there, he said they have locked me in prison. I tried to reassure him he was not in prison, and that we needed to move him because the other facility (which he also used to try to escape from, so must have felt like it was a prison) didn’t have an area with an available bed suited to his needs. I have so many questions of myself, and of humanity in the 21st century. Is this the best we can do for our loved ones? Why aren’t we prepared to make sacrifices for our loved ones any more? Is it because we have become far too selfish and needy of the trappings of a good life, or simply need the sense of self that comes from working outside of our families? The activities, the day room, the dining rooms, all full of people, who all seem to be suffering from what Martin Luther King calls a sense of nobodiness as they are herded together to allow facilities to work more efficiently, and to ensure the provision of better care as they say! Apart from the small private bedroom, these places are also set up for the masses, with minimal ability for individuality. I have just had a call to tell me he has had a fall as he tried to get up with out assistance. Another visit from the ambulance paramedics, as I am told doctors don’t treat aged care residents at that level, so another $300 bill, and no medicare rebate available for ambulance/paramedic call outs. He did (and will soon again) have private Ambulance cover, but that is another long story. The nurse told me Dad has a right to get up on his own, but that it is important we realise it is unsafe for him to do so. We already know this, as he has been having numerous falls each week for over three months. Even in high care (where we felt forced to move him) they still do not have enough staff to ensure his safety. I feel like going back to a recent blog. WTF WTF WTF are we doing, or rather not doing, for the elders in our own families and communities? Speaking out, writing about this, is all I can do to change this, even in any miniscule way. Send me your stories if you are up to it; perhaps by becoming a more united global voice together we can achieve more. Following my request on the More on PCC blog, I have had many blogging friends send me some amazing information and insights, so it seems there are many people working in isolation trying to bring about positive change (not exactly alone, but perhaps within one organisation or state) and bringing everyone together seems the right thing to do. It will strengthen our power and voice, as well as help us feel more engaged and less like we are trying to change this part of the world on our own. People working in these areas need to remember to human-ness of the clients in their care, and more importantly, the government and owners of these service providers need to loosen the purse strings to ensure there are more staff. As I see it, the staff need enormous pats on the back, as they are working under extreme stress with low staff levels and almost no medical support to back them up, and I want to publicly thank them for what they do.

The excerpt below is from Jane Sherwin, approximately the first third of an article she wrote about her own grandmother. It arrived in my Inbox today, and it seemed appropriate to publish this part of it, in light of what I have written about above.

“I’d like to tell you about two characters. The first had the following descriptions in her various files: arthritis, cataracts, congestive cardiac failure, periodic urinary tract infections, difficulty sleeping at times, needs a prompt to take medication, never owned a house, can’t drive and never has, hardly goes out, uses a wheelchair to lean on and push around at home, can’t get in and out of the shower over the bath, cannot shower herself, trips over her own feet, losing interest in cooking and eating, is not entirely safe with the gas stove, can’t hang out the washing, can only do light cleaning, can only stand for short periods without leaning on something. If asked what the probable lifestyle of this person would be, many professionals would advise medical procedures for the various bodily complaints, a day service for her social isolation, a respite service to give her family a break, an in-home support service for her personal care and that eventually she would need to move to a nursing home.

The second character lived through World War 2 and the Depression, raised six children, is a grandmother, great grandmother, senior citizen, is a lover of crochet, gardening, TV game shows and Canasta, voted Labor all her life, is the Patron of a large hockey club, plum pudding maker, and her grandchildren describe the delightful smell of Johnson’s baby powder around her and that she is wonderful to hug. Anyone asked to think about what would be a desirable lifestyle for this person is likely to say such things as that she would grow old in her own home, maintain her centrality in the family, maintain her roles, be surrounded by the comings and goings of family, be part of all important family rituals, be encouraged to do much for herself, be surrounded by the things that mean something to her, maintain her interests, keep healthy, maintain her connections to old friends even by phone and that she would have a reason to get out of bed each day.

Interestingly, these two identities are one person: my grandmother, known affectionately by her extended family and often by their friends as Nan.”

Sherwin, J. (2010) A person centred response: keeping Nan at the centre of her life. social JUSTICE. Brisbane: UnitingCare Centre for Social Justice. (5) 1, 8, 9.

7 thoughts on “Locked in prison

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  5. This is an overwhelming problem. My husband and I lost our grandparents, my father, and both of his parents when we were in our late twenties and early thirties. All, but my father (who was hit by a car), had long illnesses and needed full-time care. We kept everyone in their own homes with a caregiver which was very expensive; it was financially draining and it required a lot of begging for help (honestly, soon we will be having bake sales for the elderly). Except my grandmother – she fired all of her caregivers, so I tried to have her live with me, but she hated California and living with two toddlers and a baby was too difficult – she ended up very, very unhappy in an assisted living facility and died shortly after the move.

    Unfortunately, nobody ever believes this is going to happen to them. We are currently helping a 91 year old woman who is not related to us ( she alienated her own relatives). She has gone through all of her money. She is living in a state run home and barely surviving month to month on social security.

    Ironically, this woman did not speak to me (literally) for THREE years back when my husband and I were struggling to take care of our loved ones because we got into an argument about health care and social programs. I was pro social programs.

    One cannot tell someone in their nineties I told you so, yet no one listens when they are still young enough to do something about it.

    I am genuinely grateful for your passion on the topic and thanks so much for letting me vent!

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    • I feel overwhelmed reading about your losses, and to hear the situation seems no better in your part of the world. At least our sharing and venting might make us feel a little better, with offerings of global hugs and love. I guess the last part of your reply to my bog makes me find another positive about dementia, as dementia has forced me to make some of those tough decisions at a much younger age! Take care and thanks again for sharing.

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  6. Kate..How we care for our elderly is a sad testament to who we have allowed ourselves to become as a society. We have allowed ourselves to strive for materialism rather than strive for a better family life. We have allowed our minds to be caged and formed into robotic minds that have no time to humanly interact any longer while we slave to support the elite. We took a very wrong turn in humanity’s journey and we need to get back on the right track. I think that is what 2012 will be all about. Hang tight. Its in the works I believe….VK

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