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A touch of reality

The issues involved in the ageing process – and just mortality generally – are strange topics because of course from time to time they naturally affect us all and yet simultaneously, the human race being what it is, they’re ones that day to day we tend to (or try to anyway) completely ignore and avoid because we’re too busy living our lives – large slices of which, of course, are built upon the hare-brained notion that we personally are immortal, irrespective of what might be happening to those around us (or indeed to those we read about in the media or hear about).

Yesterday it transpired that I visited a care home.

It caters both for those that need a secure home permanently because the extent of their disabilities and/or the feebleness of their minds mean that they cannot easily or safely be looked after in their own homes, with or without the assistance of live-in or visiting carers, and also those that normally live at home but need a place of temporary ‘respite care’ because of circumstances beyond anyone’s control and/or because their family or carers need a short holiday break or similar.

In this piece I’m not addressing politics or wider issues such as the amount of funding and/or the general quality of social care in the UK, simply the human aspects of being involved – however directly or indirectly – in the provision of care as it is these days.

There is always an initial and unremarkable gulf between those professionally involved in caring (e.g. for the elderly) and those who have an aged family member who begins to need it.

The former, of course, have been trained and then become experienced in dealing with every affliction or issue that might possibly attend upon an ageing individual.

The latter, quite possibly, begin by having little or no experience or understanding of those beyond examples such as diseases, conditions and loss of memory that may have affected their loved one before any question of needing professional care assistance arose.

To an extent I’m writing here from personal experience when I state that – save perhaps when someone you know is diagnosed with a life-threatening injury or illness – at first it is very hard to accept that your particular ageing relative is not going to proceed (okay, quite possibly through maybe some painful and/or prolonged treatment and side effects first) naturally and inevitably one day to the restoration of his or her full health and a resumption their life as it used to be.

Thus any professional carer introduced into the situation has almost as big a task on their hands ‘managing’ the expectations (and quite possibly also medical and general misunderstandings) of the subject’s family, relatives and friends as they do in dealing with the care of ageing individual concerned.

Let me expand a little upon the issue of mobility and balance to provide an example.

When first an ageing individual begins to suffer these, the general approach is to encourage exercise, activities, even physiotherapy and massage – presumably on the general theory “use it or lose it” (and that can include maintaining brain power too e.g. by taking up crosswords or learning a new language).

If the individual is still in control of their faculties and/or has been an active person generally, this can be quite easily applied. They can begin taking daily walks or having physio sessions. Where this isn’t quite the case, they can be encouraged to take exercise by those around them, including any carers involved.

However – and the carers will spot this before the family – inevitably there will come a time when there’s no longer any point.

In effect the individual becomes incapable any longer of taking such exercise and a switch has to be made from encouraging (I’m not going to say ‘forcing’) it if you can, to accepting that a new stage has been reached where the watchword is no longer taking exercise but instead simply providing whatever assistance is necessary to enable the individual to live their life ‘as it is now’.

In other words, there’s no longer any possibility of slowing or arresting the decline of the human body, it is a case from now on of just managing the latter stages of the individual’s existence.

Which will inevitably end with their passing.

At some point in the process – in many instances quite early on, in others much later – the family will finally ‘twig’ the situation, after which both any professional carers involved and the family are basically on the same page and hopefully working as a team.

But back to my visit to the care home yesterday.

An individual entering a care home for a period of ‘temporary respite’ will be greeted with great ceremony as the care home staff make welcome efforts to make them feel at home. Or at least as ‘at home’ as any suddenly incomer at a completely new and different place can be made to feel. A bit like arriving at a boarding prep school for the very first time, really (as someone in our party commented).

At one point I went off on a walkabout to find the lounge on the first floor, just out of interest.

To do this I had to walk down a couple of corridors with individual rooms, all doors open, occupied by long-term residents on either side. Almost without exception, the incumbents concerned were either asleep, open-mouthed, or in a semi-comatose state.

It’s how life eventually becomes for any ageing individual who ends up in a care or nursing home.

Today I take my hat off to salute all those who go into nursing care as a lifetime career.


About William Byford

A partner in an international firm of loss adjusters, William is a keen blogger and member of the internet community. More Posts