Thursday, March 30, 2006

The trouble with old people (2)

The programme which I wrote about yesterday gave rise to several thoughts about my own care in the future, if a time comes when I can no longer live independently. I made notes and here is the message I want to leave for my sons:


If I become incapable of looking after myself:

I would not expect any of you to take care of me in your own home. You must be committed to the future, rather than the past; that is nature’s way, however hard.

But if I have to go into care, please don’t abandon me there. If I have not been able to arrange my own care, try to put me somewhere where you can visit me regularly, if not necessarily often.

Remember I am still the person you have known all your life and who has loved you all your life, and you are likely to be the most important thing in my life at this stage.

Don’t lie to me and say I will get better and come home if I won’t. The truth between us can be used positively, while lies are more likely to create suspicion than to reassure.

If I no longer have my wits:

DON’T let anyone leave me parked in front of a TV which is permanently on, and over which I have no control. The end of life needs to be faced with a quiet mind. The playing of good music on occasions may be a good thing however.

If you talk to others in my presence, do so as though I can hear what you say – who knows, maybe I can.

Just be content to be with me at times – you don’t have to talk all the time to be companionable and give comfort, and it will take so much of your energy if I cannot respond.

At the end:

If you possibly can, be there with me and hold my hand, so that I can feel your loving presence as I go.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The trouble with old people (1)

This is the title of a strand of TV documentaries showing on Channel 4 this week, which kicked off on Monday with a programme by Tony Robinson called “Me and my Mum”. Channel 4 describes the programme as “an intensely personal look at the plight of Britain's elderly in a film about his 89-year old mum, Phyllis, who suffers from dementia and lives in a care home.” Tony himself says: "I'm angry at the way old people are treated in this country. I feel frustrated that no one ever talks about it.”

I found this a very courageous film, in which Tony looked at the reality of the decisions which have to be made when our parents can no longer live independently, and revealed his own doubts about whether he made the right decision for his mum. He talked about it with his son and daughter, and with others who have faced the same problem, and admitted to feeling guilty because he does not feel able to look after his mum at home. At the same time he pointed out that we should not feel guilty that we have such feelings, as they are common to so many of us.

One of the questions which came up was whether we should lie to our old people about whether they are going to get well again and be able to go home. One family had decided that it was kinder to lie, but their elderly father clearly suspected he was being ‘dumped’ in a care home, and he died within a few days of being moved there.

My own choice would be for the truth, for it may be possible to use the truth in a positive way, while lies, it seems to me, are more likely to create suspicion than to reassure. I remember too that my own mother chose not to let my father know that he was dying, but felt deeply deprived herself by not being able to share her last times with him in a fully open manner.

One of the conclusions reached by Tony Robinson was that we give a low priority to human happiness in our care for the elderly. “When people get old and doddery they can’t stand up for themselves any more” he said, “so they stop complaining and we stop listening. Do we try to make full and happy lives for our old people, or only to manage the end of their lives efficiently?” he asked. A good prompt there for all of us, as we try to make the difficult decisions.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Growing old - continued

Unfortunately, there are very few surfaces in hospitals on which to place photos etc, and priority goes to water jugs, chocolate, fruit, tissues, coffee cups, reading matter, and so on, so my idea of standing our photograph (see previous blog) on his table didn't work very well.
However, Michael has now been moved to a single room in our local cottage hospital, and by a happy circumstance, one of his guests knocked a picture off the wall and broke the ring. So with a spare nail to hang it on, I was able to create a full montage in a frame. (I should have photographed it before I put it behind glass.)

I told him I had done it so that people will know who he really is, not just a body in a bed. He seemed quite pleased about it. He had two visitors just after I had put it up for him, and they thought it was a great idea. But I am more interested in what the staff will make of it - will it affect their attitude to him at all? It certainly gave me a lot of pleasure to do it for him, and I can't wait to start on my own.