Caring for the elderly: we can, and must, do better 

I have had a very busy week. I am happy to say a care home was found for both my parents. Within 24 hours of the home saying yes, they were both out of hospital and on their way to a room they will share and have filled with personal items rather than the blank, sterile walls of hospital wards. When they saw each other for the first time in months, they lit up and kissed.

It was quite the most beautiful kiss. They have been married for 68 years.

“I have two Cinderellas to find, wardrobe to sort out for the dress rehearsal and a hundred other things that need my attention.”

So spoke one lady in the care home to me today, by way, I guess, of saying hello. I don’t know her name yet. She is very well-spoken and polite. Obviously someone with a background in theatre, I might be able to communicate with her on common ground, as I’ve a background in theatre and my Bachelor’s degree was English and Theatre Arts. I only briefly got to address her today, as she wandered off inside her own head. This was my parents’ second day in residence, and they have taken to their new life like fishes to water. I cannot express fully how happy I am to see them happy.

Another lady said hello and shook my hand. She has a crooked back, so her face is to the floor all the time. A carer told me she is very friendly with everyone and loves to attempt conversation – but is profoundly deaf.

I felt a pain in my heart. Yes, it is sad in some respects.These are living, breathing, feeling people to be respected, with rich personal histories. I hope to be able to listen and learn from my visits to the care home. It is actually not a depressing or disturbing thing to be there. I see my mum and dad in context, knowing that, even with a more open approach than my siblings, I have not fully comprehended the state of play with my parents until now.

But it’s okay to get old. What isn’t okay is where we are heading, because soon, and in many towns across the UK already, you won’t get into a care home unless your family can pay top-ups. I got lucky. My parents got lucky. When care homes routinely reject old people on the basis that their families don’t have money, we will increasingly see those old people stuck in NHS hospitals – costing money but being made miserable. It’s obscene.

Just don’t get old. Or, if you do, make sure you’re rich and know how to avoid paying taxes. I’m not going to become any less angry about injustice now a fantastic care home has been found for my parents, not after my experiences these last four months. Not when I’ll get old myself one day. Not when excellent professional carers earn a fraction of what politicians do.

leave a comment (please note comments are moderated, and may take time to appear)