Sunday, April 15, 2007

Care of the elderly; a memory

Tom Paine left a comment on my last post on the elderly and it was immediately clear that it had to be a post in itself. He kindly agreed to this:

When I was a little boy, the neighbouring house in the terraced row we lived in (two up, two down, outside lavatory) had the widowed grandfather living there. In the Winter he sat by the fireplace. In the Summer, he sat in his shed. I don't think it had ever been agreed that the family would take him on. He just got past being able to live alone and it happened naturally.

He smelled a bit funny, but I liked him. He used to talk to me when I was playing in the garden. He would tell me stories, teach me the names of the passing insects, let me pretend to smoke his pipe, that kind of thing. He didn't mind a bit being the besieged settler in a prairie schooner to my Indian chief. He had all the time in the world to spend, unlike the responsible adults.

There would be a paedophile panic now, so sick has our society become, but it was not like that at all. He was just a lonely old man, probably remembering the little boy he had been himself, somewhere back in the 19th Century.

I learned from him, as did the children in his own family. We certainly learned not to think of old people as belonging to another species. He represented a future part of our own lives. I only wish he had been a bit more articulate.

The welfare state has destroyed the family's natural tendency to look after its own, having cruelly promised something better - and then failed to deliver - or rather delivered to its usual crappy standard.

People have lived their lives on the assumption that they did not have to provide for their own old age or for that of their poorer relatives. Planning regulations even make it difficult to build houses big enough to accommodate the odd babushka.

All the taxes taken by force against promises to provide such care have been squandered by politicians with five year horizons (and a substantial guaranteed pension). Yet another reason why I can't understand how they walk in public without being lynched.

I have an old school friend who works in a nursing home. She tells terrible stories. The inmates are only cleaned up and looked after properly when family are due to visit. If you can't provide for yourself, only family WILL look after you in your old age - even to that limited extent. All else is lies.


Colin Campbell said...

I agree with this, but it depends on the circumstances. I remember my dads father having to live in dire circumstances later in life after he contracted severe dementia and became a danger to himself and others. He lived in the Pschiatric Hospital. He was deaf, had no idea where he was and was wasting away. When we visited, which we did every week, he was often soiled, unwashed, unkempt and disorientated. I always think about that when I envisage my future. His wife lived at home until she started having blackouts and injuring herself. She moved into a nice home, but deteriorated quickly having lost the will to live. She did control the situation, despite her protests. My mothers father was quite independent later in life and spent most of his later years into his eighties at home being looked after by carers, my mother and her brother. A much better way if you can make it work. My mum controlled his care until he was too sick to stay at home. Her mum stayed at home and had paliative care when the cancer took over.

Tom Paine said...

Of course that's right. The old gentleman I was remembering was lucky enough to leave his family's home in a coffin, but often professional care will be needed.