Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Home for the Elderly

On Monday night Hodmandod Senior and I visited a home for the elderly close to where we live. Hodmandod Senior's mother has become too infirm to spend any time alone in a house; and she is becoming confused - memories and dreams merging with reality until everything becomes equally unreal.

Afterwards I was discussing with my mother what we found most depressing about these places. My mother's opinion is that it is the television. 'It is always on,' she says, 'too loud, and around it are all these people just sitting there in wing chairs and high seats watching it.'

I think she's right but there are other things too: the anonymity of the rooms, the way the chairs are arranged along the corridor, the cardboard labels inserted into the holders on the door...everything is temporary and has the atmosphere of a waiting room.

As we followed behind the assistant we kept up a frantic chirpy dialogue as if what we were doing was ordinary and commonplace.

'They watch the birds from here.' she said. 'There's a bird table, and though it doesn't look like much now, in the summer, they sit out. They like that...'

We agreed with her that it did look nice: the water feature with the small trickling waterfall that she switched on for us to hear in the dark; the decking; and the small terrace where they sometimes had a barbecue. And yes, we were impressed with the usefulness of the bath seat and the ledge in the shower, and the pull switch and the way the commode looked exactly like a comfortable chair in the daytime, and so very convenient for them to have a door of their own into the garden, and laughed at the story of the old lady who liked a drink and so her family brought in a crate of sherry and stashed it in one of the high cupboards so that she could be issued with one bottle every time they came, once a week...

Once a week. Every Tuesday the hairdresser came, every Wednesday the woman who did the movement classes, only if they wanted to, of course, and two months a woman came with clothes they might like to buy.

'Sometimes they wave at the children in the school next door when they pass.'

Yes, we smiled, as we went past another sitting room with the TV noise preventing all conversation.

'That's where they knit, some of the ladies...'

When we got home Hodmandod Senior phoned his mother to tell her about what we'd seen. 'You'll like it Mum, we're sure you will. We both thought so. Anyway you can come up here to find out.'

I remembered the seats, the old woman sitting in her dressing gown staring at nothing, perfectly happy but staring at nothing.

'Of course the door is alarmed in the evening. Just in case they wander. Sometimes they stop and don't remember where they are.' The assistant had said as she'd pointed at the french window.

Not they - us. Not they - me. Me in the dressing gown staring at nothing.

'Old age - it's horrible.' The superintendent said vehemently in her office afterwards, as Hodmandod Senior described his mother's condition.

Yesterday the superintendent phoned saying they had a place available and last night Hodmandod Senior has again travelled down to London for his mother. It seemed a very good place and we feel lucky that they happened to have a place available. The staff seemed caring, patient and good-hearted and my mother-in-law is going to have a four day visit which may, I suppose, extend to the rest of her life if she is not too confused and the home is suitable for her.

But the thought chills me.

15 Comments:

Anonymous Maxine said...

When this happened to my mother the main thing that struck me about these places was the strong smell of urine. Or if it wasn't strong, underlying. Just awful.

Wed Nov 08, 09:23:00 am  
Anonymous clare said...

Yes, there was that too - though not at all strong in this place. I was impressed with that.

I am sorry your mother had to go into one of these places too, Maxine.

Wed Nov 08, 09:52:00 am  
Blogger Anne S said...

B's elderly mother, after years of resisting moving from her house, moved into a very pleasant retirement village not far from where we live. She has settled in very happily and even her cat has made friends with another cat there.

The residences are independent units - quite spacious, but they have care on hand 24 hours.

I dare say we'll all end up in one of them - hopefully not soon. Veronica Gardens where B's mum lives is idyllic in comparison to some.

Wed Nov 08, 09:57:00 am  
Anonymous clare said...

That sounds ideal, Anne, or at least a good compromise. I think my mother-in-law needs a little more help than that though, unfortunately.

Wed Nov 08, 10:08:00 am  
Anonymous marly said...

There is a lovely home in the village where I live--immaculate, beautifully designed, no odors, a library and lovely parlors, good food. The residents get visits from churches, the Opera, and all sorts of musicians and speakers. It's the ideal, the perfect thing, as such things go.

I visit an elderly writer there... It is very nice, she agrees. She is thankful. She is grateful to be there, rather than some other place, less nice. But she has no kindred soul. She has no one to talk to about things that matter to her. It is not home, even though there is a cat and dog.

Still, it is very nice.

She knows it is nice.

Wed Nov 08, 03:06:00 pm  
Blogger Lee said...

Marly, the lack of someone to talk to is also what upsets my mother most, though she is still in an independent flat. 'They play bingo' is her sad refrain.

Wed Nov 08, 03:25:00 pm  
Blogger Susan said...

Ah, but consider the alternative! A decently run establishment can be a Godsend. It will all come down to attitude in the end - If you can get her to see the positive aspects of the move she can be content. After all, I think she's going to be closer to you! That's good. And routine is beneficial. She'll eat better, or at least regularly, and that should help her to function better. There's an old saying "What can't be cured must be endured". Old age is a nuisance we all hope to face. I predict that she'll thrive.

Wed Nov 08, 04:28:00 pm  
Blogger Jan said...

There is a sad beautiful story opening here, Clare:" They watch the birds from here...in the summer they sit out" and it chills.

I'm pretty sure that this is the place where my lovely father spent his last weeks.Near the zoo? We looked at several places while he was in hospital; this was one of the better ones. It's functional, reasonably pleasant but if you think too deeply about what is happening, it can break your heart. But there are things you can do: visit often, take smiles, take flowers, take your thoughts, your family, take warmth and cuddles and the talk of memories.It will help; it will help you both as much as his mother.

Wed Nov 08, 05:34:00 pm  
Blogger Debi said...

A beautiful and powerful post, Clare.

If we're all of similar-ish age maybe we should arrange to all end up in the same place so at least we can still have stimulating conversations ...

Thu Nov 09, 02:40:00 pm  
Anonymous clare said...

Marly: such a good thing you're doing there - visiting an elderly writer. And yes, lee, that's one thing that struck me as I went around. There seemed to be little talking.

I hope you're right, Susan - but I'm really not sure about her state of mind - whether she's going to appreciate any of this.

Jan -no it's not that one - it is a very good one though, as these things go.

Thanks Debi. Yes, excellent idea. We could call it Bloggerhaven and have one of the best times of our lives!

Thu Nov 09, 03:01:00 pm  
Blogger Patry Francis said...

My mother, though still living in her home, is in a similar "dreams mixing with reality" until everything blurs state. But she so loves her home, her cat, her yard, and her independence. It's a hard decision trying to balance my need to know that she is safe with what could turn out to be a devastating sense of loss if she has to leave her home. You describe so beautifully how the tipping point is reached and how the decision is never easy or entirely clear.

Thu Nov 09, 05:28:00 pm  
Anonymous Maxine said...

My dad has been looking at a retirement place a bit like the village you describe, Anne S, but not a village, more like a large house divided up into flats in the countryside.
He is wondering "when" to go there -- he values his independence. I must say, I feel rather envious. The idea of living in a room with a computer terminal and any book you want to read (via a library) is intensely appealing. Of course I realise this is a fantasy and it isn't really like that. But the monastic-like retreat from all life's "issues" seems very appealing.....

Thanks for your sympathy, Clare, the whole story with my mother was intensely complex. One factor was that she was totally incapacitated by a stroke so there was no other option.

Thu Nov 09, 09:57:00 pm  
Blogger apprentice said...

I hope it works out. I have to say though that I dislike the "theys", I think it's the language people use more than anything else which is dehumanising.
It's the hardest thing to see your parents failing, it's a reminder that we're next and that we're the carers now. Personally I found owning my first washing machine a big enough responsibility.

Fri Nov 10, 12:23:00 am  
Blogger Sarah said...

I'm sorry Clare. The only thing I'd say is that my mum had to go into care before she died, and we were really so incredibly lucky with the places she went to (she had to move as she got progressively worse). You hear horror stories, and I'm sure there are lots around, but she was treated with respect and with so much care. It was humbling really. So although it's not home, it can be OK.

Fri Nov 10, 06:56:00 pm  
Anonymous clare said...

Patry: today I bumped into someone I used to teach in the creative writing classes I used to give. She said that she too had experienced this dilemma. It is hard - and she said that the fact that she used to be a nurse had made it harder. But eventually she found she couldn't cope any more and her mother had gone into a home...and once there it didn't feel so bad. They kept visiting and all worked out well.

Maxine: I too very often find the monastic life appealing. In fact, the times when I have been away from home in a hotel room with just my laptop, I have found very gratifying. There is a sort of cleanliness and austerity that I find very appealing. I do miss my family though.

Hello Apprentice - yes, that is exactly it - the 'they' when we should say 'we'...and the cleaving off of layers of the generations.

Thanks Sarah. Yes I agree, it is humbling. I don't think I could ever face doing such a job - and am continually surprised and delighted at the people who do - and with such good nature and consideration. I feel so grateful that there are such people.

Fri Nov 10, 09:13:00 pm  

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