Thoughts on care homes and our basic human needs

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Since writing this blog, my Nana passed away peacefully at the home with her husband holding her hand. She’ll be missed so much by all her family.

My lovely bubbly 91-year old Nana had a stroke two years ago that changed everything for her and her husband. As a result of the stroke, she lost a lot of her mental function, was paralysed down one side, and had to be put into a home because my granddad, himself 96, is unable to look after her himself.

You could say that at that age, she has had a good innings and at least she’s still alive.

But she is deeply sad.

She spends each day desperate to go back to her own home, which she never got to say goodbye to. In those two years she has only left the confines of her small room on a few occasions and so rarely gets to go outside.

She’s given a daily diet of awful-looking slush, because they are worried about her choking on real food (due to a weak oesophageal muscle). She cannot stand the ‘food’ and so is not eating. She has lost six stone since being put on this ‘diet’. She tortures herself daily with thoughts of the food she loved to eat and is no longer allowed. So while they are potentially saving her from choking, she is instead dying a slow death of starvation. And all my granddad can do is sit there each day and watch.

To think that’s how the last years of her life are going to be spent is so desperately sad. And I can’t help but think that there has to be a better way.

Every one of these people in homes is a human being and while they may not function as well as they once did, they still deserve the best they can possibly have and some inexpensive small changes could make the world of difference to them as they live out their final years.

None of this is intended to be a criticism of the wonderful, devoted people who work in care homes and provide the care that often families cannot. But I do believe that some relatively small changes in requirements across the board could seriously improve the quality of life for those people who have no choice but to live out the rest of their days in such a place.

Here are some basic things that struck me as we visited her this past weekend:

  • Nutrition. Even if she has to have slush, why can’t she have varied, tasty, nutritious slush? I know the reason is cost, but I would like to compare the cost of her Complan-style daily meals, or blended overcooked meals with little nutrition, with more fresh fruits and veg that could be blended to give some variety and nutrients. I can’t help but believe that this would be a significant improvement to her daily life, both mentally in that she might enjoy the taste of varied, natural food even if in smoothie form, and physically because her body would be getting the nutrients it desperately needs and she wouldn’t be slowly starving herself.
  • Social interaction. It’s a fundamental human need. My Nana is very lucky to have my granddad who is so devoted that he visits her every day for hours at a time. But not everyone has that. And even with that, she still sits for hours on end in her room, shuffled between her bed and a chair and back again. I know that for some people in a home, there is a good level of social interaction, where they can go out into common rooms and mix with other people (as my husband’s grandmother can), and a lot of homes put a lot of effort into bringing in social experiences and entertainment for their patients. But clearly, not everyone benefits from that and my Nana is one of them because of her physical restrictions. She’s being left for hours on end with nothing to stimulate her mind other than a TV and the endless beeping of various alarms within the home that really disturb her. It should be a requirement each day for homes to find ways to provide social support to each individual, regardless of their physical restrictions.
  • Time in nature. There’s a wheelchair, a lift, and outdoor space at her home and yet she has rarely left her room during that two years. There’s an energy and balance that you can only find from being outside in nature, not to mention the variety that this would bring to her life, so I would like to see this being a basic requirement for all patients in care homes each day (weather dependent of course – we are in England!).

It also made me think about devastating events such as strokes, and how lifestyle can be one of the biggest factors in the likelihood of suffering from one. It hardened my resolve to focus on my health with a healthy diet and exercise.

Make sure you enjoy every moment because time just goes so fast

In one of her more lucid moments as my Nana was watching my three boys, she said, “Make sure you enjoy every moment because time just goes so fast.” It’s one of those statements that you read all over the place, but hearing it from my Nana and feeling the depth of feeling that went into the statement gives real pause for thought.

What are you doing right now to ensure you’re making the most of our brief time here on earth and appreciating just how lucky we are to be alive and well?

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