Abuse of the elderly–seems like the definition of that would be easy. Don’t abuse them physically or verbally, don’t take advantage of them, and have patience for their failing memories. Simple, right? Apparently not.
Going back a few months, you might remember my mention of my mother not being well. She lives in a retirement home just up the street from where I live, apart from the six weeks she spent in the hospital from last June until August. She fell and broke her neck. I’m not exaggerating–she actually fractured the vertebrae at the top of her spine. It didn’t for a minute stop her from walking, but I was cautioned that if she turned her head a certain way, she might finish herself off. Since she couldn’t be trusted to keep her neck brace on, she was confined to a hospital bed.
Since then, she’s been told that when she goes out for a cigarette (because she can’t smoke inside, naturally), she has to take good care to keep her walker with her and watch where she’s going. Fast forward to last week.
She fell, yet again, this time breaking her ribs. Will she stop smoking and stay inside? Of course not. She’s been smoking since she was fourteen years old. Seventy-four years ago.
I started off by giving her cigarettes to the nursing staff, in hopes that she’d have someone to go out with. This, of course, was far beyond my better judgement to take them away altogether because of the risk of pneumonia with broken ribs. That worked for a while, until she started to complain to both myself and the staff that we were treating her like a twelve-year-old.
So, she got them back. And guess what? She’s fallen two more times, hitting her head both times.
So I’m stuck. She can’t remember from one minute to the next that going outside is a life-or-death situation. When I explain it to her, she says all right, she’ll wait for a nurse to go out with her. Less than two minutes later she’s asking why there are no cigarettes in her room. What do I do? What is the worse abuse? Denying her what is arguably the one pleasure she has in life to save her life, or letting her kill herself because she doesn’t remember?
Abuse of the elderly. It feels inevitable.