It was the letter prompted by the Corona virus that caught my eye recently. It read, ‘At the age of 86, I am fit and well, still driving and exhibiting my art and enjoying life with my husband, who is 90. We have decided not to be terrified of getting the corona virus. We have had a good life and if it gets us, it will save a lot of money and inconvenience in the event of having to be looked after in an old people’s home, the prospect of which really is frightening’. What’s frightening about a care home? I would like to invite the letter writer and her husband to visit any one of our care homes and see for herself.
It’s not just our homes (Pilgrim Homes): I’ve been into others and so have my friends, visiting relatives, and we can’t speak highly enough of them. Yesterday several members of my church and I visited a local care home here in South Wales. We found twenty residents and four carers, and a quiet, peaceful atmosphere – with carers not distanced, but deeply involved. People in our group introduced themselves, sang a few of the old hymns that residents’ age group are familiar with, and I led a little ‘devotions’ about birds and the promise from Isaiah about how waiting on the Lord leads to renewing our strength like the eagle’s (Isaiah 40:31) from our book, ‘Worshipping Together.’ This new resource begins by engaging residents with a couple of easy questions, one of which, in this study was – had any of them had a parrot or budgie? Yes, three of them had and one had to give hers away because it was too noisy.
A resident on my left had dementia and a mild agitation, and a carer sat on the arm of her chair, gently speaking to her and stroking her arm from time to time. One sat between two residents with a hand on their shoulders; another next to an older lady who was very bent over, telling her what we were saying, and singing.
It’s time that the myths about residential care were swept away. Yes, occasionally there’ll be a story of a failing home and indifference and neglect, and it’s shocking and despicable and our hearts go out to those affected. Cruelty to vulnerable people is our worst nightmare. Yet it’s the contrast with the ‘norm’, the caring, loving homes, that magnifies these horror stories.
We need to challenge false perceptions wherever they come from – the Government Minister who sees them as an easy option for people who want them so they don’t have to care for their parents, to the people who say that they’ve promised their parent/grandmother/spouse that they would never ‘put’ them in one. The Minister’s view was insulting to the thousands of adult children who struggle sacrificially to cope, often looking after their own children at the same time.
He had clearly grasped the wrong end of the stick and was using it to smash any notion of government funding for residential care. Yet in the absence of any other form of care for frail elderly people and those with dementia (who need 24-hour specialist care), unless you can afford permanent carers day and night in your own home, residential care is the only answer. It’s dishonest to pretend otherwise. It’s evidenced by the way thousands of older people, including the 1,000 or so with dementia, are ‘dumped’ every day in NHS hospitals via A&E.
Myths are destroyed by the evidence, and it’s all around us if we look. The well managed, good care homes outnumber the bad. Carers are patient and assuring, often going far more than the extra mile. ‘They are so patient,’ a chap in my homegroup told me about his mother in a local home, ‘she keeps demanding that all these people in her house be sent out!’ My elderly relative’s Old Age Consultant recommended residential care to her daughter, saying, ‘she won’t be isolated, she’ll have company, and she will probably seem to get better at first.’ I have heard so many stories of relatives’ gratitude that I could fill another book with them. In our Wantage home, the pastor who said he could leave his wife, who had dementia, there, knowing that she would be cared for lovingly and expertly. The elderly lady who was determined to die in her own home but whose frailty brought her into one of ours, whose niece told us a few weeks later that nothing would persuade her to move out now. The wife searching for a care home for her husband with only months to live and finding one of ours, then seeing him improve dramatically and live for two more years, even managing to attend his beloved daughter’s wedding. ‘People think I’m making it up,’ she told us. There are many, many more ‘evidences’ like these.
Nothing would please the Government Minister more than believing that people see no value or virtue in residential care. To defeat a lie we simply have to tell the truth – as clearly and publically as we can.