Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Problem Of The Elderly

As my Irish readers will know, there is a scandal being uncovered in yet another Irish nursing home - one in a leafy, upmarket suburb of Dublin, Rostrevor Nursing Home in Rathgar.  According to new reports there are accusations of abuse and mistreatment, so the place has been closed down, the residents are being moved and an official investigation is underway, one which may led to prosecutions.  

This is not the first nursing home here to fall under the accusation of elder abuse, over the past few years other private nursing homes have come under scrutiny and have been found wanting.  One of them, Leas Cross, was found guilty of "institutional abuse".   That said, it has been said by many, especially by those who visit nursing homes regularly, the HSE or state run homes, need to be as zealous in scrutinising their own homes as private nursing homes, as you sometimes hear the accusation that these institutions not to meet the standards the state has set for others.

All of this is deeply disturbing, more particularly when we remember those relatives who can no longer care for their elderly make the painful decision to admit them to a nursing home trusting the institution to provide the professional care that is needed.  They are also paying out a lot of money.  Your average fee for a week in a nursing home is about €1,000, much more if the nursing home classes itself above the average. 

Of course this situation raises the issue of care of the elderly in general.  Our country was once renowned for its care of the older generation in whom we recognised a wisdom and a nobility which was worthy of veneration.  This respect was derived from our Christian faith, but also from Celtic family traditions which honour age.  The extended family was the norm, as it still is in traditional societies. 

However, as we moved towards the nuclear family, as we divested ourselves of the Christian faith and as we became wealthier, our respect for the elderly began to wane.  With money in their pockets and generous subsidies from the state, people availed of nursing homes which were sprouting up all over the country.   As one friend of mine often remarks when this issue of a nursing home culture arises, the motto for many of these could be: "We care so you don't have to".   Which, to be honest, is a typical consumerist attitude: we can pay for everything now, even to get rid of the inconvenient, that includes inconvenient relatives who can't look after themselves.

Not everyone is like that, as I said above, for many the decision to admit a relative into a nursing home is distressing and difficult - and it is one all of us may have to make, and one which may need to be made for us.  But there is an attitude growing in Irish society that is diluting our respect for the elderly.  As a more selfish society, we are focused on ourselves and our ambitions (our self-fulfillment?), anything that gets in the way of that has to be removed, and sometimes our obligations to our weaker relations can be a serious barrier to that.  This attitude fuels the euthanasia movement, though few in it would admit it - they claim they are being compassionate.  Well, we know compassion is often used to justify anything even the murder of children before their birth.

This neglect of the elderly falls under what Blessed John Paul II famously referred to as "the culture of death", we might even discern the contraceptive mentality in it.  The lives of the weak and vulnerable are seen as inconvenient, and so like the child that could be conceived, action must be taken to prevent this inconvenience.  We can't kill them as they do in "Logan's Run" (not yet anyway, but they're working on it), so we put them away.  The scandal of abuse in nursing homes should shake us up and remind us of our duties and obligations to the elder generation.

All that said, there are worrying times ahead.  Thanks to contraception and abortion, the population in the industrialised west is falling - with fewer people being born and people living to a greater age the problem of providing for the elderly is a real one, and it will be interesting to see how western governments deal with it.  At the moment they are raising the retirement age, but that is a very short term solution: what instant solution will they choose?  

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