Be nice to your children, they choose your nursing home
I was visiting a friend who has just moved into assisted care. This newly built aged care facility provides permanent care, dementia care, nursing services and palliative care and is a long way from the basic nursing homes my mother used to talk about. She believed the old saying, Be nice to your kids, they choose your nursing home.
In the secure section’s tranquility room a small white haired woman snuggled under a soft covering watching laser light ‘stars’ dance on the ceiling. Bright eyes met mine and I sat beside her. She grabbed my hand and beamed at me. ‘Hello’, I said.’How are you?’
‘Three and a half inches behind’. I stroked her hand and spoke quietly for a while eventually saying, ‘I must go now. She patted my arm, ‘Three and a half inches behind’ she said with a smile. When I reached the door I heard a quiet, ‘I love you’.
For twenty-five years I’ve been a research volunteer with Melbourne University’s Womens’ Healthy Aging Project and have learnt a lot about, menopause, H.R.T, post menopause and lately, dementia and Alzheimers.
According to the current literature Dementia, also known in my mother’s day as senility, is a broad category of brain diseases that cause long term and often gradual decrease in the ability to think and remember clearly . So much so that a person’s daily functioning is affected. The most common affected areas include memory, visual-spatial, language, attention and problem solving. Most types of dementia are slow and progressive. By the time the person shows signs of the disease, the process in the brain has been happening for a long time. At the moment there is no cure. Globally, dementia affects thirty-six million people and is on the increase. More people are living longer and dementia is becoming more common in the population as a whole.
Senility has been around for a long time. My mother often told me that when she was eighteen she was sent to look after her Gran who was senile and needed constant care. It was a daily struggle just to get Gran dressed. After fighting with her to get some sort of clothes on, Mum would try to put on Gran’s leather buttoned boots. Gran would clench her teeth and plant her foot on the floor. They would struggle for about half an hour before Mum finally got the boots on and buttoned. Mum would give her grandmother a bag of tangled pieces of string for her to unravel. It kept her busy all day. At night Mum would mix them all up again and hand the bag back to Gran the next day. Only when her Gran was dressed and occupied could Mum escape to do her own chores.
Not every dementia patient is as difficult as Gran. They can be as sweet and lovely as Three and a Half Inches Behind. WHAP research has found that the story of each patient recorded in a book assists people to understand how to help dementia patients live as calm and enjoyable a life as possible.
The new three story building that is home to my friend houses elderly people with physical and mental problems and is better than any luxurious Retirement Village I’ve ever seen. Large private rooms with an en-suite, wide hallways, comfortable lounges with aquariums and electric fireplaces complete with realistic flame effect. Friendly, caring staff. These facilities are a far cry from the urine smelling shared rooms of the nursing homes of my mother’s day.
I remember sitting next to eighty year old friend, Mickey when we flew through a violent storm in a tiny eight seater plane. After a particularly loud boom of thunder, she bent forward, put her fingers in her ears, closed her eyes and muttered her mantra, ‘Never a nursing home, Never a nursing home.’ Mickey would not have such a fear of being sent to a home if she had seen one of these new Aged Care Facilities today.
But to get into one of these top class aged care facilities is still a trauma and, if you cannot get a government funded place, can cost the earth. I don’t know what the answer is, but I am so happy for my friend. Her physical condition has improved since being there and her mind is still as sharp as a tack.