Funny image of the past week: Edwin Poots sitting in that nursing home with a 90 + -year-old. She’d been on the Nolan Show earlier in the week and had been encouraged to express her feelings of alarm and distress. So here was Edwin, the Health minister, with the very same woman, and what are they doing? Holding hands. And smiling delightedly (in the case of the 90+-year-old) and in a getmeoutahere manner (in the case of Edwin Poots).
Edwin’s hand-holding companion was only one of a number of old people who were presented to the camera over the past week or two, insisting that the nursing home in which they lived was their home, and to take them out of it would be like ripping them from all they knew and loved. Which must have had the nursing/care homes of the statelet dancing on the ceiling. Up to now, these homes have been in the news for much more negative reasons - hidden cameras showing the ‘carers’ thumping the defenceless patients, bed-bound people being left in their own faeces and similar horrors. Now here were the very patients testifying that they loved their ‘home’. I wonder were there any relatives alarmed at the news that these homes were due for closure, not for the sake of their relative, but for the burden such closure might place on them.
Two quick points (after all, it’s Bank Holiday and I should be out frisking around like a little lambkin):
- I have never heard anyone say that they’d placed a close relative in a home without at least some tinge of guilt. Often unasked, they’ll explain to you how they couldn’t possibly have looked after them at home.
- There’s little doubt that most old people want to go on living in their own real homes if at all possible. It may not be heaven but it beats the care homes.
- I’ve never visited one of these care homes without feeling depressed. That may have been because we all are headed that direction, and there’s the distinct possibility that we’ll find ourselves in similar circumstances - assuming we’re not six feet underground. But there’s also something semi-zombie-like about many of the old people in them. They sit there as if in a daze (medication or a sense of hopelessness?) The only exception I’ve come on has been one old man who lived into his early 90s and whom I visited from time to time in his care home. He read, he watched TV and he was a vigorous conversationalist. He never left his room, and when I asked him if he didn’t want to mix with the other people in the home, he was very definite the answer was No. He didn’t say “I’d be fearful I’d catch their mood of hopelessness’ but it was clear that was what he felt.
So while it’s kind of fun to see old Edwin being turned on the media spit - he really should have had a tighter hold on all those trusts before they announced their multiple closures - it’s a pity that the care homes are emerging as the hero of the piece , the place where at least some people seem keen on passing their final years. In my limited experience, they all have a faint whiff of despair. Any alternative arrangement for old people would almost certainly have to be better.
One last question, related to a point an acquaintance of mine made to me some time ago. As years go by, he claimed, grown-up children love their parents less and less. They (the children) who were once powerless in the hands of their parents now find themselves all-powerful, with their parents’ fate in their hands. The result of this reversal is a hardening of hearts and an increasing sense of their aged parent as being inconveniently alive. I’m still trying to tell myself that my friend got it wrong. But it’s not easy convincing myself.