In an institution

By Marion Foreman. Published 2020-01-06
BOLD-Living
Give me a minute – I’m just going to step up onto my soap box!

Give me a minute – I’m just going to step up onto my soap box!

When I started nursing (admittedly nearly 50 years ago) I spent three months nursing in what was called a ‘Psychiatric Hospital’ or, more commonly a ‘Lunatic Asylum’ or a ‘loony bin’.  I can remember many of the patients in this place.  Some were there for years and years and some were ‘acute’ admissions.   Those who were in for their entire lives are the ones I remember the most; the ladies there because they had had illegitimate children, the failed suicides, (yes, that’s what they were called) and those who had been in a diabetic coma and had emerged so badly damaged they couldn’t regain their former lives.  They were in an institution because we (society) had decided that that was the best thing for them.  The regimes were harsh and the staff were not always as kind as they might be. But we saw the light and these places gradually closed down and the people were cared for in small communities, encouraged to join in with everyday life – a huge paradigm shift. 

I am often in care homes; I work in some and my mother was in one.  These are lovely places; they are bright, airy and don’t smell of stale wee and cabbage.  The residents have wonderful food, choice and freedom as much as their fragility and age allows.  They have meaningful things to do and their family and friends come and go as they wish.  The staff are unfailingly kind in all the ones we go into. But they are still institutions – these people are not living in their own homes.  Why do we do it?  Not all countries have ‘care homes’ – for some the whole idea of care for their older relatives anywhere but in their own home is alien.  Are we hiding away those that society doesn’t want to see?  Should we make it easier for older people to stay in their own home?  What a paradigm shift that would be.  Currently we don’t have the properly trained carers or the funds to meet these demands.  I wonder why not?  It is easier to get an older person admitted to an expensive acute care bed in a hospital than it is to help them to stay at home in the warm with all the things around them that they have accumulated in their long lives. 

Something needs to shift – money needs to be allocated.  For some older people a care home is absolutely ideal – for others it is the only solution as they can’t get the help they need at home.  Is it time that we (society) made a fuss and helped older people to be where they want to be – where they have always said they want to be?  How about a ‘National Care System’ – that would be real ‘cradle to grave’ care!