So, where are your parents? Are you looking after them, keeping them active, taking them out to the Garden Centre or a drive round the countryside? Or have you forgotten them? Are they living on their own, pretending that they’re eating well and all you do is send the occasional birthday or Christmas card? Or, have you decided that your aged father or mother are beyond your help or perhaps they clash with your IKEA sofa and have become an embarrassment?
Perhaps you’ve bitten the bullet and put them in a home and of course “They really love it in there. They’re with people of their own age and they are REALLY well looked after!!” Are you sure about that? Would you rather spend your old age with your family – your children and grandchildren or would you rather spend your last days in the company of other old, sick and drugged-up geriatrics?
For the moment, the choice is yours.
Here in the United Kingdom, we’re not very good with old people. Once they start talking crap and forgetting things , too often we feel that it’s time to hand them over to someone else. “What a lovely room, dad….and such nice people. You’ll be well looked after here!”. Can you imagine your aged mother’s or father’s “euphoria” as the Old Peoples’ Home door bangs shut for that first time and you finally breathe that sigh of relief. “It was for the best.”
There’s absolutely no suggestion that the whole Care industry is bad but it is just that. An industry.
An industry can feed our parent or grandparent and it can clothe and wash but it cannot relight the memories and emotions of the life that we once shared with them. Very often it is emotional and spiritual “asphyxiation” which kills people and not any lack of food or drink.
Health Service Ombudsman Ann Abraham has just published a report about the NHS and its relationship with old people. She concludes that the “NHS is failing to meet even the most basic standards of care for old people”. Here are a couple of direct quotes:
“Mr D had advanced stomach cancer and wanted to die at home. When his daughter arrived to collect him from hospital, she found him sitting behind a closed curtain in distress. He had been left for several hours, was in pain, desperate to go to the toilet and unable to ask for help because he was so dehydrated that he could not speak or swallow. The emergency button had been placed out of his reach, his drip had been removed, fallen and had leaked all over the floor. At home, the family discovered Mr D had not been given the right pain relief and spent the weekend driving around trying to obtain the correct medication before he died”.
“Mrs H was admitted to hospital after having a fall at home. She suffered further falls while in hospital and broke her collar bone, but her niece, who was her only relative, was not told. Mrs H was transferred by ambulance to a care home. When she arrived at the home, she had numerous injuries, was soaked with urine and was dressed in clothing that did not belong to her and that was held up with large paper clips”.
Last year the Ombudsman accepted twice as many cases for investigation about older people as for all other age groups put together.
Old people can be very hard work and sometimes extremely annoying as well as a drain on our time. Just as we were when they were bringing us up.
We now have the medical ability to prolong life and very soon we shall be able to prolong it indefinitely. Our contemporary attitudes and methods should be telling us that our sociological development is lagging some way behind our technical expertise and it does not look as if we’re making much of a realistic effort to bridge that gap.
Prolonging life whilst NOT being able to preserve its quality results in the Health Ombudsman telling us:
“These often harrowing accounts should cause every member of NHS staff who reads this report to pause and ask themselves if any of their patients could suffer in the same way. I know from my caseload that in many cases, the answer must be “yes”. The NHS must close the gap between the promise of care and compassion outlined in its Constitution and the injustice that many older people experience. Every member of staff, no matter what their job, has a role to play in making the commitments of the Constitution a felt reality for patients.”
The NHS Constitution? The mistreatment of old people has nothing at all to do with constitutions and has everything to do with natural human compassion, decency and the moral obligation that we all have, to treat or senior citizens as equals and not as former human beings.
Recently, politicians have been talking about “The Broken Society”. They are right. It is because our society is “broken” that we treat our old people as figures of fun and inconvenience rather than behaving with affection and respect.
Our National Health Service would function much more efficiently if we were not in such a hurry to offload our parents and grandparents to be looked after by (often incompetent) strangers.
There are many old people still around who belong to a generation which was brought up to fear authority and through that fear, learned respect for their fellow human beings. Nothing wrong with that – that’s all that they had at the time. They are now being looked after by this generation which, in the main, has absolutely no concept of those quaint “old -fashioned” values. A generation which does not respect its own parents and frightens old people (sometimes) to death.
What about the NHS’ failings described so eloquently bythe Ombudsman? In keeping with all the other NHS issues – it is a management problem which regrettably, from the preening 911-driving consultant to the non English-speaking nurse, does not exist in the form that it should.
So, when you’ve packed the old man’s case and driven him to a hospital or nursing home, just before you walk into reception, look at him properly. Remember.
Then, look him in the eyes and think.
I have included a Comments Box on this post for those of you who are either looking after old relatives or who may have had them incarcerated in an Old People’s Home.