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Monday, 10 October 2016

Are we “abandoning” our elderly in long-term care?

Recently I read an article on the “abandoning” of our elderly in long-term care, and it got me to think, … ‘are we “abandoning” our elderly?’... ’How are we “abandoning” our elderly?’ … ‘what are the reasons and causes?’

Personally I feel the responsibility is more on the families than on the care system itself but before I wanted to commit to this belief I wanted to understand it.  I wanted to ensure I wasn’t leaning towards a misinformed belief.

However, I work for a charity that is trying to promote this change, so there must be more to it than statement of fact.

Having read an article entitled “Elder Abuse in Long Term Care”, I have to say, that I have come to disagree with myself.  It is so easy to simply point the finger and blame the families of those in long term care – their grown up children and other family members for “dumping” their aging parents and family members in long-term care facilities and leaving them there to languish alone.  Because of the stigma and myths associated with Dementia and Alzheimer’s it seems to be even easier to lay blame when those in question live with the disease.

It is true that countless long-term care residents go for months, years sometimes, and on occasion forever without visitors, and not a soul to advocate on their behalf.  But are the families really the ones at fault? And is it useful to point fingers and assert blame?

I have been fortunate, my family has always been extremely close and when my grandparents began to grow older and require more assistance we didn’t just sit back and expect my Aunts and Uncles or my parents to deal with the emotion or guilt and in some ways grief.  We empowered ourselves, drew together and supported each other, no all families are as lucky.  

I don’t believe that ultimately responsibility for the care of our elderly solely rests with society in general or the healthcare service (Dr’s, Nurses, Care Workers, Social Workers and other relevant professional organisations), the Government, longer-term care providers (at all levels of the industry).  I believe it is the responsibility of all of them plus family members who wish to be actively involved.  Irrespective of how we collectively decide to handle Care of our Elderly moving forward, I believe it’s imperative that we treat our elders with more respect and humanity than we do now.

Below is a list of just some of the reasons why older people are “abandoned”, this isn’t a conclusive list far from it but it does give pause for thought:

·      Many families place aging parents in long-term care facilities after having cared for them to the point of exhaustion; placement is a bid to save their own lives.

·      Many families are forced to place loved ones in long-term care because they are financially, physically and/or emotionally unable to care for them even though they may want to.
·       Some don’t have the skills, some live too far away, others are “sandwiched.” The decision to place their loved one in care is devastatingly difficult to make; it rips their hearts out, but they feel they have no choice.

·      Some families do not wish to care for aging parents, nor do they feel it’s their responsibility to do to so.  And who are we to judge whether that’s right or wrong?  Who says children are ultimately responsible for their parents’ quality of life?  Parents choose to have children, but if their children as adults choose not to be involved with them later in life, neither society nor government has the right to judge or govern that choice, any more than we can tell people whether or not to have children.

·         Some parents do not wish their families to care for them, they don’t wish to “be a burden;” and they prefer to be placed in long-term care.  I whilst feeding my 10day old twins announced to my husband and new babies that I would never want to be cared for by them if I got to the point where I needed it.  I even went as far as stating “I’d hate my husband to have feed me”.  I wouldn’t want to be a burden and I was only 35 years old.

·         Some families are estranged; they don’t want to be in contact.  They just don’t like each other, plain and simple.

·         Some elderly people do not have children or extended family, and they end up alone as a result.

·         Some adult children who wish to care for their aging parents are precluded from doing so by other family members, agencies or guardians who have legal control.  Sometimes their loved ones are moved without their knowledge, or access is restricted or denied in some way.

·         Some family members are forced by social services or other agencies to place loved ones in care even though it is against their loved one’s wishes as well as their own.

·         Some family members are unable to visit their aging parent after placing them in care because they are overwhelmed by guilt, can’t bear to see their loved one suffer, or think it doesn’t matter because their loved one doesn’t recognise them anymore etc.

·         Some families implicitly trust long-term care providers and believe their loved one is better off in an institution; they see no need to visit, supervise, or advocate.

·         Some long-term care facilities prevent family members from seeing their loved ones, particularly if the family members criticise care practices, demand change or aggressively advocate for better care.  Jenny Moore, the founder of YourVoiceMatters.org.uk, for example, was banned from seeing her mother-in-law for three years after being “a habitual and vexatious complainant” because she voiced concerns about her mother-in-law’s care. Her case, while extreme, is not unique.  In this way, some long-term care facilities hold their residents “hostage” with family members powerless to help them.

·         And sadly, some family members place aging parents in facilities for selfish reasons such as wanting to preserve their inheritance.  To these people, having their parent’s money after they die is more important than providing them the possible best care while they’re alive.
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