At what point in history did we start putting our elderly relatives into care homes?
As I write, I have no way of knowing...no internet to help research and Sime’s still snoozing, well it is only 6:30 and dark - most people are asleep, but I woke with this thought and no doubt I have written something along these lines before.
Having cared for both my Grandmother (Nan) and Sime’s Mum (Bebe) and knowing how difficult it was especially with Bebe as her dementia progressed...I was thinking about how families managed before care homes. Certainly in the UK, we have become quite disconnected from our older generation and it seems that their opinions are no longer valued by younger generations. How differently we live today and yet Nan grew up surrounded by family, cousins in the same street or just around the corner. Neighbours were like extended family and everyone helped each other - taking care of the children and keeping an eye on aging grandparents. Lives were entwined. Young and old spent time together, listening and learning from each other.
Today, there seems to be a huge gap between grandparents and grandchildren, technology has probably created this gulf and lots of kids no longer want to spend time with their older relatives unless there are rewards involved.
My grandparents were my lifeline and I adored staying with them as a kid, they were very involved in our lives when we lived up north and were always there for us; whether helping out with our kidlets, feeding us after a long day at work or giving us great advice. As a youngster I took them for granted really, but as I got older I realised just how much they meant to me and to us both - we are so grateful to have had such wonderful role models in our lives. After Granddad died, Nan moved into sheltered accommodation and some years later the council decided to knock down the flats. It was decided that Nan could no longer live independently and my mum suggested she move into a care home, but the thought of doing that when none of us were around to visit regularly seemed an awful thing to do. We hatched a plan and offered to move Nan down to Cornwall to live with us and she amazingly agreed. She lived with us for the last two years of her life and although it wasn’t easy – we are both very happy to have given the love and support she gave us. One of the nice surprises was seeing her relationship with Hugo develop; he was 5 when we moved to Cornwall, and so she hadn’t been involved in his life as much as she had been with the girls. He was 10 when Nan moved in and as he was home educated, they got to see lots of each other and struck up quite a bond...Nan loved to argue, Hugo would happily give it back and she loved it! She was good fun, but frustrating too – her stubbornness became more exaggerated as she got older and vascular dementia meant she sometimes didn’t know where she was. We went through lots of difficult times with Nan, but we are very glad to have had the opportunity to care for her and doing so certainly enriched our lives.
The same with Bebe, who you can read lots about on this blog...put Bebe in the search at the top and enjoy...She was quite a character too! Unfortunately Bebe did end her last months in a care home - as her dementia progressed quite quickly. We had some lovely times with her and felt her being with us was quite a healing process for us all. Sime had had some troubled times with Bebe during his childhood and she absolutely hated me when we first got together, although having our kidlets did transform her into a doting Granny. We really felt that when she came to live with us we were all finally able to talk about those times and gain an understanding of why Bebe was the way she was.
We hear great stories today of retirement villages accepting students to live alongside the older residents and children’s nurseries doing sessions in care homes. This shows there is much to be gained from these different age groups spending time together. We are meant to live in multigenerational communities and whether it is possible to stick around our own families or move into an intentional community - there is something wonderful about several generations living in harmony, learning and supporting each other.
I hope we can find new ways of caring for our older population and see the end of the care homes we have today - which are pretty much the same as they were when I did work experience nearly 40 years ago. People are still sitting in big circles and listening to war time tunes...it really is most odd that we haven’t moved on.
Why don’t we have grandparent adoptions? Why don’t older people move in with surrogate families instead of care homes or couples and young families move in with older people? There are so many benefits for everyone.
Throughout this year, we have continued to support two elderly women near to where we used to live and we have very much become part of their support network over the years. When we moved we promised to carry on and we have...we can see the importance of our commitment, not just the physical help – our showing up and being there for them has probably made a difference in how they have coped, particularly during these last few months and although lockdown seems to have a slightly different meaning in Cornwall (more like carry on regardless), neither of them see as many friends or have the visitors like before, so seeing us each week does give them a boost and we love going along and doing whatever needs to be done. We all chose to continue and are willing to be responsible for our choices. The more we hear about older people not seeing family and friends, the fear and rules that are rolled out are shocking. There are so many people in isolation and it will no doubt be the loneliness which will kill them...is it not better to connect with older loved ones? To spend time with them, hug and kiss. I know how I would (and do) feel – I would take the risk; live my last months or years surrounded by the love of my family and friends. Given the choice, I’m sure the majority of older people would choose being with the people they love, rather than be alone. Why live in fear at the end of your life? We are all going to die at some point, so have fun - enjoy the company of your elders, listen to their stories, learn from their wise words and in turn bring some joy to their lives...we all need each other more than ever.
Our hearts go out to those of you who are stressed and worried, those of you who haven’t hugged or touched loved ones for months...we can’t imagine life without human contact, but please know that we send love and wish you well.
Turn off your TVs and devices, go out in nature, get your face in the sun and breathe deeply.
Lots of love, Kay (and Sime) xx