Content Warning: This article contains content which some readers may find distressing.
Have you seen this story about an elderly couple in their 90’s from Bournemouth UK who fell to their deaths from block of flats ‘in suicide pact because they didn’t want to go into a care home’?
The article does not say why the couple did not want to go into a care home. There could have been a variety of reasons. Instead, let’s think about why WE might not want to go into an aged care home. Then I will tell you a shocking story I heard about a man called Nigel; whether that was his real name or not I don’t know.
Some reasons not to go into an aged care home…
- Financial mismanagement of both the facility and residents’ bond money.
- Poor diet.
- Low quality care, both generally and medically.
- Poor management of mental health issues.
- Exposure to uncontrolled and ‘negative’ interaction with other residents, some of whom might have serious mental health issues.
- Cost concerns.
- Poor attitudes – staff, management and owners of facilities.
Ok, so lets discuss each of these in turn.
We increasingly come across accounts of elder care abuse in the news media. Here is one from Australia in August 2013: Aged care workers cite abuse and neglect of nursing home patients. Just one article is a distressing, disgusting and shocking read!
Another Australian article; this time from July 2013: Mistreated nursing home residents ‘better off in a concentration camp’. I quote: “And one woman has told the ABC that her grandmother, who survived Nazi concentration camps, believes her experiences in aged care are worse than her wartime ordeal.” Frankly, we can see why the woman would say this – the Nazi abuses are well documented and having read/seen scores of reports of conditions in aged care homes both here in Australia, and back in my homeland of Britain, it is clear that there is indeed a serious problem within the aged care industry, at times not dissimilar to the Nazi era.
Theft is a problem within the general community. How much more so when vulnerable aged care residents are concerned? Many elderly people are forgetful, others not especially alert or aware, and still more are otherwise vulnerable to exploitation. Look at it this way…if you were a thief, you would think aged care residents are ‘easy pickings’. Crooks love an easy life.
4. Financial mismanagement of both the facility and residents’ bond money.
Here is an Australian article which among other things, mentions unproven allegations: Exclusive investigation: Probe as five aged-care centres face collapse. Suffice to say that news reports such as this are deeply concerning. A basic knowledge of human nature informs us that even if these specific allegations are never proven, or are in fact untrue, there will be unrelated situations elsewhere concerning other people/businesses/organisations where these types of allegations are correct. If you are an aged person entering care, or a loved one assisting, these kind of issues are a genuine concern to anyone conducting ‘due diligence‘. Who can we trust, we might ask?
5. Poor diet.
Besides comments in news reports about poor nutrition for residents of aged care facilities; when we consider that many aged care homes are run as businesses, and thus for profit – we do not need qualifications in accounting to conclude that key savings can be made in the food area. And food can be so expensive these days. I recall a story that an airline worked out that by cutting one olive from each passenger meal they could save tens of thousands of dollars a year. Now, where is my stock of powdered potato?
6. Low quality care, both generally and medically.
These issues have been mentioned in news article links above, so it will suffice to say that at such a vulnerable life stage, low quality care will lead to a faster ‘attrition rate’. What do I mean by ‘attrition’? I mean that bodies, minds and health will deteriorate faster and in many cases, death will arrive sooner. The blunt version: poor quality care is a fast track to death. Welcome to aged ‘care’ and all that.
7. Poor management of mental health issues.
Again some of this has been covered earlier. I might add however that if basic care needs are not being met, then mental health ones will almost certainly not be. In fact, lack of proper basic care will tend to exacerbate mental health issues. It’s a vicious circle in more than one sense of the word.
8. Exposure to uncontrolled and ‘negative’ interaction with other residents, some of whom might have serious mental health issues.
We’re getting the picture…an aged care home can be a ‘cess pit’ of all kinds of neglect and abuse with an ever deteriorating mental health arena. Cue on stage ‘Ethel’ (resident), the lady from hell who has been left to her own devices. Ethel enjoys torturing other residents (she sees them as aliens) when the staff aren’t looking. Heck, in some homes, some of the staff enjoy watching her at her ‘craft’. An extreme example I know, but you know that out there, somewhere, it’s true, and not uncommon.
Here’s one example of someone who apparently had bipolar/manic depression, and/or perhaps dementia: Veteran dies after patient with mental health issues attacks him with a bottle on NHS ward: Distraught family brand his death ‘a national disgrace’.
9. Cost concerns.
How long will I live?
How long will grandma live; think some greedy beneficiaries?
Will I have enough money for my care? Will I get value; or will I pay top dollar while some greedy bastard feeds me gruel?
Maybe I can get grandma into an ‘el cheapo’ home and thus have more money for my new car at the end? Chortle.
Need I say more?
10. Poor attitudes – staff, management and owners of facilities.
Clearly, poor attitudes contribute significantly to the problems raised above. Here is a personal anecdote: Years ago, when I lived in Britain, I owned a lighting wholesale business and some of my clients were aged care homes. Disturbingly often, my customers – the principals of these businesses – referred to their line of work as “Granny farming”.
There are of course other concerns about aged care, however I have decided to limit the article to the above. Perhaps you would like to add others, along with your own thoughts, in the comments section below.
Before I tell you about Nigel and his shocking ‘solution’ to the aged care home abuse he feared, let me explain what happened to my grandmother Jean…
My grandmother Jean was one of only three blood relatives (others were her hubby Wilf (Dcd 1985) & my uncle, Wilf’s brother Trevor (Dcd approx 1973)) and one step-father (Colonel Palmer – Dcd 2011) who genuinely cared about me.
Jean was born in 1910 and lived through the Blitz in London during 1940. She and my grandfather Wilf lost half their house during the bombing; while they were sleeping in it. Wilf was an ARP Warden, not being allowed to join the armed forces because of his trade as a welder (a reserved occupation). In the 1980’s Jean became ill and ended up in a medical aged care facility – she was not well enough to be in a conventional aged care home. (I think the facility was government or semi government – may have been NHS). That said, Jean was static and had been there a considerable time, her health not improving or declining – there was no prognosis of a death ‘time scale’. Jean was not suffering and not in pain. Jean died suddenly one day in the April of 1987. Some years after Jean’s death, my father received an anonymous phone call from a female. The woman told my father that Jean had in fact been murdered by medical staff with an overdose of medication because ‘they needed the beds’.
Let’s have a think about what my father was told…
- The phone call was placed some years after Jean’s death. Thus unlikely to be false – it seems like someone wanted to get it ‘off their chest’.
- Call was anonymous – many ‘whistleblowers’ fear for their livelihoods, yet feel and act on the need to do at least something.
- The concept: ‘murdered by medical staff because they needed the beds’ fits with subsequent news reports, psychological profiling and stuff like ‘care pathways‘.
- So, do I doubt that my grandmother Jean was murdered? No.
Ok, now we’ll move on to the story I heard some years ago about Nigel.
As I said earlier, I don’t know if Nigel was his real name. Nigel, a military veteran whom I think was a former Royal Marine, was very worried about being abused at an aged care home once he reached the stage of needing to stay in one. Nigel hoped he would die in his sleep before that though. Suicide was also out of the question for him. Being a resourceful fellow, Nigel had worked out what he thought was a solution; if he did get abused at an aged care home. He planned to try to find a home where the chances of abuse were low and his ‘plan’ was purely a ‘back-up’ should things get really bad.
Nigel reasoned that should be become a victim of serious abuse whilst living in an aged care home, that he could ‘force’ the government to take care of him and also that he could do what he thought of as a public service at the same time. Nigel realised that if he was in prison he would get proper care, proper medication and other help. Thus, thought Nigel, if he got attacked/abused by a care home assistant, he could use his Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife in self-defence. He, Nigel, would then be transferred to prison, the abusive care home assistant would be ‘terminated’ (his words apparently) and the world (especially for the other residents/victims) would be a better place. Nigel also hoped that his actions and ‘solution’ might help governments to ‘wake-up’ and fix the terrible issues in the aged care industry.
Now of course, we cannot, and do not condone, the ‘plans’ of Nigel – whom I believe did die in his sleep as he hoped. Nigel’s plan however illustrates in yet another graphic way, the desperation with which many aged people and their loved ones (the ones who are not thinking of the car) contemplate aged care. We know of course that not all aged care facilities are bad, however the problems are all to common as court cases and news media attest. I too have to admit that most of my aged care home clients in my old lighting wholesale business saw their industry as ‘Granny farming’. My grandmother was apparently murdered.
If you are in government, or any other capacity to help alleviate the suffering of aged people in senior care, I urge you to do what you can. The suicide of elderly people fearing aged care homes is a terrible indictment of our society and the last thing we need is armies of people like Nigel overcrowding our prisons. And I know that many people might like to shout: “Go the Marines”; but we cannot live like that. We need to fix the problem and start with our own hearts. Most of us do not care and this lack of caring ‘pickles’ society so that aged care home abuse and so on can become endemic, ignored and even ‘acceptable’ or the norm.
And guess what! You might get old, and end up in a nursing home for the aged. Or perhaps you hope you don’t; especially if you are a ‘Granny farmer’.