We’re failing the elderly – again (23 November 2011)

Here we go again. Another report about the poor care and treatment the elderly in this country are receiving from a system that is supposed to care. This time it’s not care homes or hospitals it’s actually the care that elderly people are receiving within their own homes. Elderly people, whether in their own homes or in care homes, have to put their trust into people they don’t know just to receive the basic services in life. They have to trust others to help them get dressed, to provide their meals and to keep them safe. Once again, we discover, their trust has been exploited and again we discover the appalling treatment that the elderly in this country are being subjected to. The Equality and Human Rights Commission have published a report based on a year long inquiry into the care that elderly people receive in their own homes. The report looked at how local authorities in England provided home care for the elderly and how they maintained their human rights. The outcome was that the elderly are once again having their human rights breached. Some of the findings are horrific and amount to abuse. One woman who is 78 years old and lives on her own, has a package that is both self and local authority funded. She told the inquiry; “Most of the girls [from the agency] were nasty; they were rough. Rather than say ‘sit in the chair’, they’d push me back into the chair, that sort of thing, and I didn’t like that … It was only on one occasion; I recognised it as a push. She wasn’t nice at all … I couldn’t do anything about it. I can’t even walk and I think they know this you see; they know you’re vulnerable.” The daughter of a woman in her 80’s who lives in London said; “For several weeks Mum was not bathed or had her hair washed. One time carers decided not to do any of her washing any more, even though [it was included] on [her] care plan, leading to my Mum being left in filthy nightwear and clothes and bedding. They did not inform [the] agency or me as family.” Whether you realise it or not, both these examples are abuse. Two elderly, vulnerable people mistreated because the assumption is they can be treated like that. So what happened to care at home? What happened to the carers? Don’t they care any more? Let’s make one thing clear. There are thousands of carers across the United Kingdom delivering home care to elderly and vulnerable people in their homes and the majority of them are decent people who genuinely want to help the elderly and enhance their lives at home. These carers may be able to achieve this but they may also be hindered by heavy workloads, being short staffed and budget cuts. The point is, they try. Then you have the other side of the coin. The carers who abuse the elderly. Being rushed doesn’t mean you have the right to refuse to heat someone’s meal, or force them to walk quickly when they just simply can’t, or talk to your fellow carer over the top of them while attending to that person’s personal needs. Being a carer doesn’t mean you reserve the right to steal money from the person you’re supposed to be caring for. The inquiry found evidence of all of the above. What the inquiry also found was that because of a variety of reasons, elderly people seemed to have lost their autonomy and their right to make choices simply because they need some help with certain tasks. Speaking to the inquiry one woman told them about her mother who is in her 90’s. She receives part-funded care. “The carers … get Mum ready for bed at 4.30pm. Mum would prefer this later but the only slot given was after 9.30pm and this was too late for her, and they sometimes did not come. So I agreed to 4.30pm. This does not always work; last week one carer arrived at 2.45pm to get her ready for bed. Apart from loss of dignity, she needs her stockings on longer.” As if 4.30pm wasn’t early enough for someone to go to their bed, 2.45pm is ridiculous. Not only does it take away time that the woman may have wanted to spend with family or friends or to watch something on TV, it’s also means that woman is likely to spend approximately 17 hours in bed out of a 24 hours day, that’s assuming that the morning carer would come at around 8.00am. The chances are they would be later. So that’s 17 hours that’s likely to be without food, fluid and an increase in the chance that woman would develop pressure sores, particularly if she is unable to move around freely when in bed. It’s also 17 hours without getting up to go to the bathroom. I don’t know the last time I went 17 hours without using the bathroom. The point is, you can’t, which means doing it where you lie. There’s also evidence in the inquiry that carers attending to elderly people with Alzheimers and other dementia’s are not knowledgeable about the disease. One case highlights an elderly woman with Alzheimers being told that a sandwich was in the fridge for lunch. “I know one lady, she had Alzheimer’s. The carer came in in the morning and dressed her; got everything ready and made a sandwich, ‘You eat that at lunchtime. I’ll put it in the fridge …because of health and safety,’ and the old lady … she forgot and by night time … the sandwich [was still there] … She hadn’t had anything to eat until her daughter or the carer came in at night. It’s the same with drinks. It’s health and safety kicking in and making it impossible, really.” The carer, in this case, was, at least, trying. However, it highlights that nutrition in the elderly being cared for at home is being neglected. Other cases show people who really required to be assisted with their meals, having them left beside them, therefore not eating and then losing weight. The inquiry throws up a whole host of sad and horrific failings regarding care of the elderly and it’s not getting any better. As a society we seemed to have placed the elderly into a category of low priority and why is this? Is it because they don’t or can’t speak up for themselves. Let’s face it, you won’t see thousands of society’s most vulnerable marching along the main streets of London because they can’t. That’s why they need carers, they need support and help. They’re not getting it and while this inquiry centres on the home care of elderly people in England it would be foolish to think that the situation in Scotland or Northern Ireland or Wales is any better. It’s not. This is a nationwide tragedy and it needs to be fixed, the solution needs to be made a priority. If you want to read the entire Close to home: An inquiry into older people and human rights in home carereport then click here.