Homes without love

As I wandered the corridors of a Care Home this morning, I felt really sad. It wasn’t the smell that made me sad, although that faint whiff of urine and boiled cabbage is enough to make you weep. It wasn’t the silence when there should have been radios and TVs on in the background. It wasn’t the sight of the lounge where four people sat silently in chairs gazing at the flickering box in the corner. And it wasn’t the sight of young women in uniforms briskly walking up and down and entering rooms with never a knock.

No, it was the sight of open doors and lonely people lying in beds and sitting on chairs staring at walls and sometimes crying out. Each room ‘decorated with your own furniture’ and fluffy toys and piles of unread books and dried out plants on window sills. Each room containing one lonely person desperate for human contact, calling out when anyone walked past. Of course they could go to the lounge and sit with others watching TV for 12 hours a day, but there’s never any conversation I’m told. “They’re all doolally in here.  We’d rather sit in our own rooms. ” But what if you need help to put on the wireless or TV in your own room? What if you need someone to get you into your chair with your newspaper by your side? What if you just want some company, someone to talk to, someone to share your memories with?

It all felt so desperately sad. So desperately lonely. Homes without love. That’s not home at all.

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12 thoughts on “Homes without love

  1. Chilling! If ever an illustration of the fact that really, the only thing that matters in life is our relationships with others were needed. Your description is horribly perfect.

    How terribly sad that this should be the way so many of us are doomed to spend our last days.

    Companionship, closeness, conversation three very important ‘C’s’.

  2. It is grim and it is also a true picture of too many ‘Homes’.
    But what it does do is give us an incentive to change things: if that is what we may have to endure – let’s change things for the better while we can.
    How? setting up a christian home would be a great start [my mother was in one] –
    but there are other things… children visiting [homes should be sited near primary schools, so that even the sound of children’s voices could be cheering]. And people!! anyone we know, who would go in for 10 minutes to chat – water the droopy plants, even.
    People to let you talk is a luxury for the elderly: it’s no good being talked ‘at’ by Carers rushing in, asking how you are, and dashing out before you’ve gathered the words to answer.. it’s about time, and waiting for slow answers, and hearing the memories…
    as Ruth knows!

  3. I’ve got 2 old dears in an Abbeyfield, which I believe is ‘Christian’ who are both incredibly lonely. They don’t seem to know if there is a Warden there or not and all sit in their own rooms. So Christian doesn’t necessarily mean caring, it would seem.

    I could write a book on bad Care Homes I’ve seen and how to make them better. I’ve complained too – regularly – and little changes. So sad.

  4. Aye; one of the less cheerful parts of our job. And a symptom of how staff are overworked because there aren’t enough of them, and management doesn’t always care very much. There are exceptions, of course, and some of the people who work in care of the elderly and infirm deserve medals. But the nightmare scenario that is looming, at least in England and Wales, is that because of cutbacks in public services many of these homes will close. What is to become of our most vulnerable people?

  5. The home my Dad is in will close next year and he’ll be moved into a ‘super home’ in Edinburgh. They are purpose built and more like hotels. Can be anonymous but the facilities are good. Just now if Dad wants a bath he has to be taken to the top floor for it.

    One I visited had superb staff doing lots of activities. That’s all that’s needed often – a little imagination and the will to do it.

  6. Reading that made me feel very sad. My mother was in a care home for 17 months. It did have its good points, one of which was that when my dad couldn’t visit because he had shingles the care home staff phoned him every day to check he was ok. The staff did the best they could and i do believe they were genuine fond of mum. They arranged an anniversary lunch for mum and dad the first year. She died a week before the royal wedding – 29th April would have been their 58th anniversary. The worst thing her being in the home was actually the callous thing an ex colleague (who was supposed to be an expert in social care and had been a nurse) said when she heard mum had gone to the home – ‘you do realise you have signed her death warrant – no-one lasts more than 2 years in these places’. Horrible horrible horrible, but then she wasn’t a very nice person. She said it in front of a whole room of colleagues. I cannot forgive her for that – she did it deliberately to hurt. What twisted person does such a thing?

    • Morag, that’s a horrible thing for someone to say. Especially someone in the caring profession.

      But it sounds as if the place where your mum was was in fact a good place. Give thanks for that.

  7. Hello, Ruth. I found your blog when I was looking for a Malcolm Goldsmith reference for something I’m writing. If you give me a postal address I can send you some little books we’ve written that might be useful for people who visit people with dementia in care homes. Or you could get them from Amazon. Cheers June (Professor June Andrews, Dementia Services Development Centre, University of Stirling http://www.dementia.stir.ac.uk

    • would you perhaps be kind enough to mention the titles of these books, so we can look them up on Amazon? Our Aunt, and at least two of our neighbours have Dementia, and this would be really very helpful to us in supporting them.

  8. I myself don’t mind the “the silence when there should have been radios and TVs on in the background.” We visited my father-in-law on Christmas Day and I hated having the television blaring inanities at us for almost the whole time. (full disclosure – I didn’t ask for it to be turned off until a teenage visitor, who seemed to appreciate it, left.)

    One home we considered for F-I-L has two cats and a dog! That sounds brilliant to me. Unfortunately it cost twice what his present home does. The last time I was in the area I brought my melodeon into his care home and played a couple of tunes. It was an extremely awkward feeling to launch suddenly into music… and then have everyone politely clap at the end of each piece. Within three short tunes F-I-L seemed bored by it, and the only man who really appreciated it didn’t want to listen so much as to tell me about his music-playing days. So you are right about the conversation… and bene3 is right about the need for time.

    We ended up taping a notice to M-I-L’s pillow in hospital: “Please speak CLEARLY and GIVE HER TIME to answer.”

    • Personally I don’t mind silence either, but when a poor soul is sitting in silence in a room on his own and would like to have the radio on but doesn’t know how to, then a little forethought wouldn’t go amiss.

      Listening is the key.

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