Reprinted from "Seniors' Mental Health" issue of Visions Journal, 2002, No. 15, p. 23
Two things inspired me to write this story: the upheaval that is happening in the lives of many seniors right now, and the need to improve services for the elderly in our province. Although I am not a senior yet, I have had experience with their issues through dear relationships with elderly family members. Based on what I’ve seen, I think doctors should be careful when they recommend moving a senior out of their home, as it has both physical and mental consequences. It would be a more healthy decision to improve home care services so that seniors can remain in their homes for as long as possible.
I was party to one such decision that was not in the best interests of a person very dear to me. My aunt lived in a house out in the country on a parcel of land where she could be with nature and listen to the birds she loved so much. She had lived in this country setting for years, and I have many fond memories of my time out there, which I would not trade for anything! She was a retired elementary school teacher, and a kind, gentle woman, whose husband had been dead for many years. She lived alone, but her sister and my grandmother lived close by, and would spend weekends with her. My siblings and I also spent many wonderful days out in the country with our aunt.
Then one day, her doctor told her that her place was too much for her and recommended that she move into town. I don’t think she had ever lived in town, and she dreaded it, but a place was found and the process of moving her began. As it turned out, she did not spend one night in the new place. Instead, she ended up in the hospital, and then was moved to an intermediate care facility. There was nothing wrong with the facility, but she hated it and her health slowly went downhill. I can remember the day she said goodbye to me, and just three months later she was dead.
At her real home, we had tried our best to get her out and take her places, but it was not enough. I remember her pleading with me not to go back, and if I had known better, I would have stayed, as I was of the age when I could have moved out to live with her. Hindsight is wonderful, but foresight would have been better.
After her death, it saddened us deeply to find suicide notes amongst her things at the facility. She was a caring, loving person who wanted to stay in her home. Instead she got depression and thought of suicide. My aunt’s place did not take that much work, and with the help of a home care person, she could have died amongst her birds and the animals she loved. Of course, there were external pressures that may have contributed to the premature move, as other family members wanted the land. But, what is an elderly person supposed to do? She was of the old school and she trusted her doctor and family. Her mental health was deeply affected and the physical problems followed.
It’s this experience that tells me that we should be improving home care services, not dismantling them. If seniors could stay in their homes longer, maybe there wouldn’t be the need for these impersonal facilities.