– The Story Of Ross Baker –
I have always had a close relationship with mum, so when it became apparent that mum had really started to get frail and began showing signs of dementia, I made the decision to leave Tasmania and move back into my parents’ family home in Victoria.
Mum had always been an independent person, which is why it came as no surprise when she refused the help of home care workers for tasks like bathing.
But when she refused the assistance of a walker and sustained a number of injuries from falls, my father and I were left with no alternatives and had to put mum into an aged care facility.
After 17 years as a police officer, you develop a very keen eye for observation, and it didn’t take very long for me to understand that my mother’s wellbeing was going to have to depend on how often I could be there with her.
I go into the home every day for both lunch and dinner to assist with my mother’s feeding, and these visits have given me a greater understanding of what my mother has to go through, as well as the experience of other residents.
My mother’s first year in aged care was spent in a dementia ward, and it was extremely troubling to have to watch the repetitive and lonely existence that most residents were made to live through.
One gentleman spent the majority of his days walking up and down the corridors, occasionally venturing into other people’s rooms and causing a minor disruption.
When the man was removed from another residents room by staff, he became agitated, causing staff to resort to medicating this gentleman into a state that resembled a zombie.
This cycle progressed until it got to the point where I only ever saw this man highly medicated and slumped over in a chair, and this rapid deterioration continued until his death.
I’m not sure what other medical conditions this man may have had, but watching from a distance, it almost felt like this poor chap died from boredom.
No one took the time to understand a way to engage this person, and unlike my mum, he never had any visitors.
Generally speaking, the majority of staff seemed like great people, but it became very apparent that they did not have the time or resources to understand the needs of the people they cared for on an emotional level.
The majority of staff time was focused on preventing physical injury and preventing an escape – and as a former policeman, the only thing that I could liken that experience to, would be jail.
Without my presence in the home, my mother would have been a prime candidate to experience the same fate as that poor gentleman, and staff actually told me how happy they were when my mother became wheelchair-bound.
While I understood that this would lessen her chance of falls, the fact that a staff member saw my mother’s lack of mobility as a good thing, actually spoke volumes about the attitude that staff must adopt in order to deal with the conditions that they face.
It didn’t feel human, in fact, it felt like they were caring for animals.
After being confined to a wheelchair, my mother was then moved out of the dementia area and placed among the general population of the aged care facility, but the problems I witnessed earlier became even more apparent.
I try to talk with as many residents as possible, and they relish every opportunity to speak as much as possible. These are not people who are quiet and relaxed, they are actually mentally disengaged and completely starved of attention.
The activities coordinator is only at the facility five days a week, and the residents without weekend visitors spend their days confined to staring at a TV program that they often don’t understand, or their room.
The chosen activities seem to engage a few of the residents, but those with dementia seem puzzled or unaware of the activity that they are supposed to be a part of.
Personally, I always thought that people with special needs would require special care, but the one-size-fits-all approach to activity is a prime example of the way in which staff are forced to deal with the majority of issues that they face.
Nowadays, my mother spends the majority of her day in her bed with the covers pushed to the side or on the floor.
Every time I point this out to staff, I am told that she must be hot, even though I have repeatedly told them that she grew up quilting and she is simply playing with the blankets because she thinks that she is working with them.
And to this day, I still have to cover mum with her blankets when I arrive.
While I am well aware that understanding a person’s needs can take time, failing to meet the needs of an individual when you have been given that insight directly, makes it feel as though this knowledge is unwanted, or at the very least, treated as an afterthought.
I was told that my mother was incapable of drinking fluids on her own but quickly realised that the issue was actually the size of the cup she was being given, as her frailty would not allow her to grip the cups normally.
After explaining this to management, I was told that they understood and that my mother would be given a smaller sized cup, only to find her equipped with the same cup later in the week, and nobody who was aware of her needs for the smaller cup.
After taking the manager to task on this issue once again, in a less-than-friendly manner – The following day my mother did have a small cup that she was able to use, and I was told by the chef that they actually went and got that cup specifically for her.
My mother is actually drinking by herself now, but had I not noticed, or not been as outraged as I was, I have no doubt that this would have gone unnoticed, as I am sure that it does for many others in this facility.
In my opinion, aged care lacks the appropriate number of staff, and a number of the staff that I see employed are not equipped with the appropriate attitude or skills to deal with the needs of a frail person with dementia.
And the only reason that even more people are not up in arms is simply because they don’t visit often enough to notice, or they bury their heads in the sand because of guilt due to the fact that they don’t visit as much as they should.
The people in aged care homes deserve to be treated like anyone else who is in need of care and understanding, regardless of whether they have dementia or not.
My mother’s name is Beryl Baker, and she is a 90-year-old woman who means the world to me, and she, like everyone else in aged care, deserves to have an aged care system that treats her like a person who ‘is,’ not someone who ‘was.’