Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Home help

I was moved by the generosity of a 93 year old North Devon woman who has used the proceeds of her first published novel to buy a house where her friends can stay instead of ending up in lifeless nursing homes.

Lorna Page thinks most nursing homes are so awful (“You sit there all day staring out of the window”) she wants to provide something better that will be life-enhancing rather than stultifying.

“I started asking people if they wanted to move out of their care homes and live with me and I’ve had dozens of offers. They are queuing up” she said.

It’s equally impressive that she’s become a published author in her nineties. She didn’t even think the book (A Dangerous Weakness) was much good but her daughter-in-law persuaded her to send it to a publisher.

Personally I’d hate to end up in a nursing home. I’ve visited quite a few and they always seem desperately soul-destroying. The residents sit around like zombies looking bored to death and stupefied by a barrage of powerful drugs.

Last year Jenny and I visited an aunt who was in a Belfast nursing home temporarily while she recovered from an operation. The sight of the several dozen permanent residents slumped speechless in their armchairs doing absolutely nothing was so terrifying I couldn’t get out of the building fast enough.

I would rather be roasted slowly on hot coals than end up in a place like that. I hope to hell I just die quickly of a heart attack or a rapid cancer rather than spend years incarcerated in a nursing home not in full possession of my faculties but still dragging out my life.

Other people see it differently. They believe a lot of those apparently comatose nursing home residents are actually quite content, their minds meandering happily through old memories and experiences and conjuring up all manner of fabulous interior landscapes.

I wish I could believe that, but I think hopeless despair seems more likely. Count me out.

I'm pleased to read that Dr Paul Miller, the psychiatrist who Northern Ireland MP Iris Robinson claimed could "cure" homosexuals has severed his connection with her. He has also been suspended from his psychiatric job at the Mater Hospital in Belfast. Unfortunately he is being made the scapegoat for the controversy, while Iris still refuses to resign over her description of homosexuality as an "abomination" and a practice "as bad as child sex abuse".


  1. I guess it depends on your state of mind and control of your faculties as to whether a nursing home is a good option. I probably wouldn't mind if I had become a burden on my family and was no longer able to look after myself. The saddest residents must be those who are still strong of mind and frail of body. It's a burgeoning industry over here as the population ages. I had an aunt who was very frail but sharp as a tack and I often think it a good thing that she died just before being admitted to a nursing home she was definitely all there with her marbles and it would have destroyed her to be amongst people who weren't

    As for your PS: That's as stupid as President Mbeke thinking that a good diet of fruit and veg will cure aids . .God there are some stupid people in this world!

  2. Baino - That must be the absolutely worst thing, if you're still mentally acute but the others have lost it. It must be torture.

  3. I lasted 2 weeks (basically the training period) in a nursing home, I couldn't leave fast enough and this was one of the better ones.
    We had about 10.9 seconds for each resident to shower them in the morning... The subtle but permanent smell of urine in each room made me sick to my stomach with not only disgust but also sadness. I spent half an hour cleaning a resident's room and I was scolded saying I was wasting my time. I was just trying to get rid of the smell.
    They were getting yelled at for soiling themselves, and I thought you guys wouldn't have a job if it weren't for these lovely people needing you. How would they feel if it were their own grandmothers/fathers being treated like that? Oh, I was going to say don't even get me started and look at me, can't stop ranting about it. A nursing home is a premature grave if you ask me. If I almost got myself into one of the best ones (I was told) then I can't imagine others. I wanted to help, but the system, the status quo doesn't help people who want to. I always entertain the idea of winning the lotto one day and opening a house as such for elderly or disabled children, a special place where they are treated with respect, where they can have dignity and enjoy life.
    What a wonderful woman, this lady!
    If people (policy makers, nursing home managers, carers) weren't so blind to the fact that they too will grow old one day, they would never subject elderly to such terrible treatment or force them to die slowly inside sitting idly full of drugs and waiting for when they will go 6 feet. :(

  4. Not all nursing homes are bad places to be. My Grandmother lived in a small fold, for nearly 10 years before dying in hospital.

    She was mentally acute, but posessed limited motor skills due to a stroke. Her tongue was almost as sharp as her mind. She constantly sung the praises of the staff, who cared for her. Which was a relief for the family, because of the horror stories regarding nursing homes.

    Anyway this particular home was very small, accommodating 20 residents at most. Each resident had their own flat with a bathroom and small kitchen area. They were also free to make use of the public spaces including: a day room, hairdressers and dining rooms on each floor.

    The home also held special events including: a summer barbacue and a Christmas party. The Families of Residents were encouraged to attented these events and no strict visiting hours were enforced.

    In the end my Grandmother had another stroke, but she appeared to be rallying in hospital. Until she was transferred to the Geriatric care unit. It was here that complications to numerous to mention befell her. In her weakened state, her deteriorated until she finally died.

    On top of all of this, the staff in the Geriatric care unit failed 3 times to heed a DNR order, which was in my Grandmother's medical notes.

  5. DJ ~ It is so fortunate that your grandmother was cared for the way it is always supposed to be. The horror stories are countless and I guess the few good ones like the one your grandmother was living for a long time are precious.

  6. Gayé - It's appalling that people were treated so badly in what was supposed to be one of the better homes. And soul-destroying too for conscientious staff who would like higher standards.

    DJ - That sounds more like what I would call sheltered housing than a nursing home proper. My mum has just moved into a similar self-contained flat and she seems to be getting on fine.

  7. What a great story and what a fabulous lady! I hope one of man friends does the same should I need it some day :-)

  8. Conor - Absolutely. So much better to be looked after by people you know than some impersonal 'home' where half the staff couldn't care less. Though I accept some people will always need so much care professional help is unavoidable.

  9. Eat bacon. Problem solved.

    Of course you could substitute an unhealthy vegetarian diet in your case Nick, I wasn't suggesting you change your lifestyle entirely. Deep fried Brie would probably do it juat as well as Bacon.

  10. Thrifty - Well, that's certainly one way of avoiding nursing homes. Except that I don't like either bacon or deep fried brie. Mind you, I eat plenty of cheddar cheese and fat-laden biscuits. Maybe they'll be enough for a premature death....

  11. How wonderfully inspiring that woman is! Have you read her book? I'm going to track down a copy.

    My grandmother spent her last year in a nursing home and died at 93. She hated being there and made no secret of it.

    When I visited her, she said, "I'm sorry you have to see me like this and not as I really am."

  12. Heart - No I haven't read it, I must try and get it as well. Sorry to hear about your grandmother - unfortunately that confirms my own impressions.

  13. nursing homes are necessary.
    no, of course you woudln't want to be in one--you're strong and healthy. you can't even imagine living there because you can't imagine being as ill and frail as most of those residents are.

    the ones who are sitting in a chair, slumped over? do you think that all they need is to be released to a nice house and they'll suddenly be happy and fine?

    i'm a bit prickly about this because my mother in law spent two months in a nursing home last winter while she slowly recovered from pneumonia. of course we hated having her there. but there was nowhere else she could be.

    hospitals aren't set up for longterm care, which is what she needed; at 78, it takes a long time to recover from what she had.

    but she coudln't go HOME. for god's sake, she coudln't walk. she coudln't dress herself. she coudln't make a meal. what would have the option be?

    i agree that they're depressing.
    i agree that i don't want to live in one.
    but i don't agree with your broader premise, which seems to be that they are bad places and no one should have to live in one.

    aging is not easy. we are not all spry first time novelists at age 93.

  14. Very inspiring story, Nick.
    My observation has been that there are various degrees of incapacitation that might require some assisted living. Dementia and Alzheimer's particularly. I do find nursing homes depressing places for the most part but do see the need and do see the kindness of most of the staff. I think we are all reminded perhaps of what can be in our future and thus feel repelled.
    As the old wan said: "if I'd known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself".
    But some infirmities are inevitable, no matter what we do.
    Hemlock Society is what I say....

  15. Actually I know someone who had a tripple bypass because of biscuits (or so she claimed)

  16. I watched the film The Savages this weekend and it made me think of you and this post. I would definitely recommend you checking it out if you get a chance.

  17. Laurie - I take your point that we can't always be fit and healthy and when we decline, then what? What bothers me is not so much that people have to go into nursing homes, which agreed is sometimes inevitable, but that they are often so badly cared for when they're there, with no concern for their quality of life and neglect of their basic needs.

    www - You're right, I'm probably repelled by what I see as my own future. Perhaps when it comes to it, I'll be glad to be in a nursing home myself.

    Thrifty - Too true, biscuits can be lethal. I try to eat as few of them as possible.

    Conor - I saw The Savages several months ago and it was excellent. The way Wendy and Jon had to reassess their own attitudes to ageing and the need for care and grow up emotionally was very thought-provoking.

  18. I visited an old aunt in a nursing home last year and I was very disturbed by the compus mentus people who seemed to have been abandoned vs the ones who really needed looking after.

  19. Quicky - That's unfortunate, because if the alert ones aren't encouraged to stay alert they'll just go downhill mentally.