The Shameful, Avoidable Horror of Dementia and Old Age

We would put an animal down; surely we can offer the same courtesy to a human?

I have become deeply shocked and saddened by recent conversations with one of my siblings who is involved with care of the elderly. The sheer inhumanity meted out to the elderly and those with dementia beggars belief, particularly if you end up in the wrong care home.

My sister looked after my two elderly parents for almost a decade at their own home, during which my mother’s dementia became extreme. Eventually, dementia kills you since the brain is no longer able to process the autonomous functions which normally run the body.  My father, by no means so bad, nonetheless suffered a severe decline in his mental abilities and lived in fear. Unspecified, generalized fear. My mother too suffered periods of intense anxiety.

At the end of my mother’s decade of dementia, the doctors said there was nothing they could do for her.  The recommendation was to stop feeding her or giving her liquids, since she no longer had the required functions to swallow and digest. At the end she was left, literally croaking out the last gasps of her life, aided, if I remember correctly, by a little morphine at the very end to easy her pain.  But only at the very, very end was she offered morphine.

What kind of an end to life is that? How can we allow it? An animal would have been put down long before it got to the stage that it could not swallow food or drink. Surely my mother deserved the same mercy and yet anyone offering her that coup de grace would be imprisoned for the rest of their life.

After my mother’s death, my father lasted another 6 months or so. He lived in abject fear of being left alone in a room and would shout and howl if you left him for more than a few minutes. His mental health had always been very fragile and at no time more so than in those last terrible months.

My sister, her husband and their children looked after my parents night and day with great devotion and care and love. They were fed and watered and given every comfort and company they could want. They were taken out most days on outings.  I shall always be thankful and amazed by what my sister did and the care she gave.

Imagine now, given those same disabilities, being abandoned by your family and being locked up in a care home.  That is the lot of so very many of the elderly and of course, many do not have family to care for them anyway.

A typical story is as follows.

An old lady is in tears. She has severe dementia. She is terrified and crying for her husband who has, in any event,  predeceased her by two decades.  She is in a care home where, with the best will in the world, it is hard to give the comfort and attention so badly needed by those with dementia. Or indeed, the aged in general.  She is isolated in her room with no one to visit her except my sister.  Staff can all too seldom spare the time to talk or comfort. She is given no sedatives, no anti depressants, nothing to easy her terror.

She will live in abject misery and horror until her systems shut down and she dies from hunger and dehydration.  She is alone, deeply alone and in abject misery.  And deep , deep mental pain.

That old lady is me, she is you. Her’s is the fate that awaits so very many of us. You may well end your life like this.

Euthanasia, mercy killing is what most of us would want under such terrible circumstances and yet it is denied us. And so we are locked away to die. We are locked up, in a room, with little or no company until we can no longer swallow. Until we literally “croak” our last. And I use that word advisedly. The end for such people (for you and I maybe) is literally a “croak” from a burnt and parched throat.

What kind of end is that?  Surely to god we have the same right as an animal to a peaceful and painless end to such suffering?

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