I have a very dear mate of mine who is facing the most horrid of decisions. As he gets older, he becomes more frail, and more dependent on family, friends and support agencies. The sad part is that not only does he have to face a reality, we must look on and despair with him.
It got me to thinking about the options for older people who have hitherto lived an independent life in the comfort and security of their own homes and now must face the fact that they can’t continue to do so.
Health issues seem to come with a rush. Firstly, it is just that one becomes more susceptible to bugs and viruses, because of an undiagnosed downturn in the immune system, then the palate changes and food doesn’t have the same appeal anymore. Once we could run, now walking is a problem and standing still is just not an option. Falls come along intermittently and without notice.
The older we get, the frailer we get and the more brittle our bones become. I once said that it wouldn’t happen to me but I think I might just be fooling myself.
After a number of trips in the ambulance to ED and a longer and longer series of stays in the hospital, it becomes obvious that an Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT) assessment has to be done. This is an interesting process, because the ACAT people do everything in their power to keep people functioning independently at home and only recommend nursing home type facilities as a last resort.
But unless the Grim Reaper carries one off prematurely, the trip to an aged care facility is ultimately probable not just likely.
As an aside, I remember writing about the regard the different cultures have for the elderly form their communities. The Chinese and Japanese siblings often argue about who will look after the parents. They want to have them at home. Similarly, the eastern and southern European communities have an affection for their elderly.
I don’t see that same regard being the case within our Anglo-Celtic community. We seem to rush to dump Granny in a nursing home as soon as she becomes a burden.
So, I thought, what alternatives are there?
In looking at the circumstances of a relative and my old mate, I found that there are plenty of opportunities for seniors in their advanced years which can be accessed to prevent to trip to the nursing home.
The ACAT assessment comes with recommendations and networks to alter the fabric of a home to make it more disability effective. Remember that no-one died of old age. They died because something stopped working. This is usually a series of related events like organ failure, disease more powerful than the ability to counter it, or, in some cases, people just give up and pass away. But the key is that it is a disability which carries people off and often this can be ameliorated or mitigated.
Walking aids and mobility assistances can be brought in, modifications to steps and stairs can be arranged, bathroom and toilet modifications can be installed. Assistance with shopping, cooking, bathing, gardening, house cleaning and the like all can be delivered by agencies and volunteers geared up to assist.
When all this fails, an isolation can set in. An elderly person can find themselves imprisoned in their own home and become more averse to contact with others each passing day. This isolation has an acceleration effect on the deterioration of the body and the mind.
I congratulate our senior clubs for their approach to active minds and bodies and the way in which they try to reach out to the seniors in their areas to prevent this isolation from happening before it becomes an issue. The more successful the club, the less likely a person will find themselves in a nursing home.
I might do some further reading and talking to people in the nursing home sector and write something about this bit later.
In case some accuse me of conflict of interest, I declare that I am the current president of the Tuggeranong 55 Plus Club, which is the seniors’ club in the Tuggeranong Valley. It is not the only one but it is the one I am most familiar with.
These thoughts are those which came to me and continue to come to me, as I wrestle with the difficulty of watching those dear to me become less able to care for themselves. So, if my views wander a bit, maybe it says more about me than the issue I tackle.