Some weeks ago a dementia specialist nurse told me how families were bringing in their older relatives as an emergency and leaving them in the hospital. The example she gave me was a father, whose son brought him in for examination of sudden, severe stomach pains. When nothing could be found immediately in A&E, he was admitted for investigations.
It soon became clear that he was suffering from dementia and that there was nothing physically wrong with him. So the son was called in and during the course of the conversation he admitted that his father had no stomach pains. But he and his family, including his mother, were at their wits end because they didn’t know how to cope with his challenging behaviour. He would become violent, and lash out at his mother. The son said they’d looked everywhere for help and advice and found none. He was afraid for his mother’s safety. The hospital called Social Services and did what they could. Still, they had to take the father home.
But some relatives are refusing to take their relatives home after treatment; in some cases because they are going on holiday or redecorating their homes. And hospital managers are beginning to take legal action, so they can free up their beds for acutely ill patients. In one hospital 70 beds were tied up.
How do the older people themselves feel, I wonder? If I were a betting person I’d lay odds that they make excuses for their families. A hospital chaplain told me that he had lost count of the times elderly patients told him that their families were too busy to visit them. ‘They’re got their own lives to lead,’ they say. How sad is that.
How frighteningly far our society has fallen. The commandment to ‘Honour your father and mother,’ (Ephesians 6:2) is not only out of fashion, it isn’t even known to exist.
Thank God – literally – that we treasure the older folk in our housing and care homes. Our care managers and staff go many extra miles not just to care for them, but to let them know that they are respected and loved. We believe that when Jesus said that whatever we do to one of the least of His brethren, we were doing it as ‘unto Him.’ (Matthew 25:40).