The recent death of a very old and well loved friend made me examine closely my own condition, where I now have only two close, male friends of long-standing, and one is in Holland.
In the 70s I was under extreme pressure and would have given anything to pack up my job, and go to sea as a deckhand on an oil tanker. When the Gaffer said ‘paint’ I would paint, when he said ‘Stop’ I would stop. I wouldn’t have to make decisions, I would hardly have to think, and I would fill in my free time with reading, writing, dozing, or a hobby. However it takes a special type of person to be able to live under these conditions, year in and year out, yet many do in nursing homes.
One of the problems of very old age is that you have outlived nearly all your closest friends, those you have grown up with, those you have made through life. In old age one tends, through various circumstances, to move house and inevitably this takes you away from those you know. Making real friends in old age is both difficult and unlikely, with the result one is thrown very much on to one’s own resources, and if they are meagre, life can be very sterile. Some, who have led very busy business lives, with little time for hobbies and outside interests, suddenly find themselves bored and lonely. I believe to them the day stretches very long. There are also those very crippled, mentally or physically. In visiting relatives, friends and acquaintances of my age and younger, in ‘homes’, ‘nursing homes’ clinics, convalescent homes and the rest, whether they are plush, or not so plush, they appear to me like an open prison. I am not criticising those running the homes, but the system as it is today. The inmates are not graded, not catered for in similar groups; they are lumped together, ranging from the intelligent and alert to the aggressive and the comatose. What brought it to my attention keenly was the friend, allegedly with dementia, possibly responding to medication, who confided in me over a coffee in a restaurant, that he wasn’t sure how long he could stick having no intelligent conversation for days on end. One I visited lived in a small, dark bedroom, facing north, with no sun and a poor view. He couldn’t face the ‘lounge’ because the predominance of occupants was in the later stages of dementia, with all that implies. I could go on but it would be repetition ad nausea.
Some are there because of the loss of the extended family. Once, the family rallied round and purely by being among the family gave stimulation and assurance. In these homes the ambience is not conducive to stimulation – on the contrary, even hospital is better, the nurses and the bustle alone are stimulating. I appreciate there are Day Centres for the elderly to attend, but that only occupies part of the day and not everyday. In my experience TV only puts them to sleep. Without stimulation, coupled with medication, many sleep most of the day, and that is what is affecting the likes of my friends, it is like living in a waxworks museum. In time unable to hold out any longer, they will join the sleeping majority. They deserve better. We need to seek ways of stimulating them
We are busy setting foreign countries to rights, looking after animals and overseas charities. The Sally Anne and other charities look after the poor and the under privileged as best their resources allow, we have charities including Help The Aged. I find it strange that the aged at the end of their days are not as well catered for – some people are even concerned about battery hens – how about incarcerated old ladies and gentlemen?
I have found some local voluntary organisations suffer from infighting and lack of stamina, so the product is very variable. If this condition of the elderly in homes is to be alleviated, professional, paid speakers, entertainers and the like must be maintained on an annual basis to rotate through all residencies, or have groups taken to attend the speakers etc. I recently posted a piece about the ‘Golden Rivet’, and in it I stress that the expectation of an event, even if it doesn’t live up to the publicity can keep a crew gossiping and alert for weeks, let alone days, and if it is a real success, for days after. Anticipation being better than realisation is all that is needed to lift moral, interest and to stimulate.
I have written about euthanasia, and its need especially for those who have no wish to continue living. The law demands facts to operate, yet it denies those who seek euthanasia for a valid reason, the legal right to end their life by professional help. If the law cannot prove that euthanasia is truly a crime, not just an infringement of the laws of a proposition, it should be accepted conditionally.