Ageing and advocacy

Twice during the last week I’ve been reminded sharply about the importance of advocacy in the lives of older people.Advocacy is a simple concept: it means standing by another person who needs support to confront a more powerful person or institution. The more vulnerable a person, the more he or she may need an advocate to address neglect, bullying or abuse, whether intentional or not. Even the strongest among us may need the support of other people when we are ill and in hospital.

A supporting hand

A supporting hand

Anyone can advocate for another person, regardless of the relationship between them. At one level, a lawyer who represents a client in court is the client’s advocate; parents regularly advocate on behalf of their children to a variety of people; and a student who stands up to a bully on behalf of a weaker child is also an advocate.

A few months ago I posted about a friend of mine who was a patient in a private hospital. As a retired registered nurse with considerable experience in aged care, I could see clearly that my friend was not receiving the care she required and to which she was entitled. In addition, as a patient in the hospital, she suffered several serious mishaps . These could have been prevented with better assessment and attention. They have impacted severely on her recovery and her on-going quality of life.

Several issues relating to the care and treatment of my friend were apparent, and I believed they should be addressed by nurses, doctors and other staff who were responsible for her care. One that worried her most was that she was moved from ward to ward several times without explanation. On one occasion, she was left sitting in a chair following a general anaesthetic because the bed to which she was being moved in another ward was still occupied.

I began to think it was highly probable that poor care of older patients might be endemic in that hospital. One of the additional positive outcomes of advocacy is that hospitals and other institutions often amend their practice as a result of well-measured complaints. This leads to better care for everyone who is or will become a client or patient.

Because my friend is not only an older person, but was also very unwell at the time, I discussed her position with her, and then wrote on her behalf to the chief executive officer of the hospital.

My written complaints were not addressed with me by hospital management, but several staff members entered into discussions with my friend (although she was very ill) and one ward nurse had a brief conversation with me.

As she was still ill and a patient in the hospital, likely to remain so for some time and perhaps even to be readmitted in the future, she was not prepared to discuss the issues with staff on the floor, even she was unhappy with the care she was receiving. She was afraid that there would be repercussions if she complained.

‘Patients can be punished if they say anything the staff doesn’t like,’ she told me. ‘As old nurses, we both know that.’

As my formal complaints to the hospital had not been addressed to my satisfaction (or that of my friend) when she left the hospital, I took the matter further. A third party told me in a telephone conversation that ‘the hospital thought’ that all the complaints had been resolved. And in spite of my first letter clearly stating I was acting as my friend’s advocate, they thought I was ‘just a friend!’

Some of the important lessons that I learned in ten years as a professional advocate were that anyone act as an advocate on behalf of another person; advocacy goes into the fray as hard as it needs to; and does not give up until the end of the matter. Obviously that hospital has not learned the same lesson. The story continues…

Another old woman who is much loved by a number of people lives in residential aged care facility. Last week, following a visit by one of her friends, there was a discussion about apparently poor care the old woman had received recently. I suggested the friends could address the matter with the director of nursing, or they could contact an advocacy agency for support. The friends thought that the woman’s family should be told of their concerns and the decision to deal (or not) with the concerns should be left to them.

In my experience, staff members in most aged care facilities and hospitals recognise their duty of care; they want to provide the best attention and treatment for their residents and patients. Often, a timely word to a senior staff member from whoever witnesses problem behaviour results in prompt resolution of the issue. There is often a written complaints procedure that will help if the complain is not resolved immediately.

Bystanders who do nothing to assist a vulnerable victim of neglect or abuse become part of the problem.

In Western Australia, for more information about the rights of residents and assistance with making a complaint about a residential aged care facility or a Home and Community Care Service, contact Advocare Incorporated.

For assistance with a complaint about a hospital, contact the Health Consumers Council

There are similar organisations in other Australian states.

Resolutions

Since our peaceful, joyful, family Christmas day, I’ve spent some uncomfortable hours with the dull ache of disappointment and embarrassment, wondering how to make amends to my sister and brother-in-law for forgetting their invitation for my husband and me to share a special meal with them and our brother on the Friday between Christmas and New Year.

I’d looked forward for weeks to spending time with my siblings, but without checking my diary I’d invited another person to our house that evening. There’s no excuse. Not only did I hurt  people I love, but John and I also missed one of the highlights of our festive Christmas season.

When my sister rang to ask where we were, I confessed that I’d forgotten. As if that wasn’t bad enough, when I eventually looked in my diary I saw  that it was the birthday of one of my granddaughters. I’d bought and wrapped her present before Christmas, but I’d forgotten the day completely.

On one level, not checking my diary was a simple mistake, but not to use it or the calendar by the phone for a week? There’s something about this forgetful behaviour that disturbs me. My decision to make some changes takes effect from today.

It’s mere coincidence that it is almost the end of the year. New Year’s resolutions have never been part of my life. In the past couple of decades, each year on my birthday I have reviewed the previous year. A long time ago, a friend gave me an illustrated notebook with beautiful paper, and I’ve used that to record any past achievements and write to plans for the next twelve months.

A shelf full of old journals

A shelf full of old journals

One year, I worked through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. I began to write three pages in longhand every single morning, followed by a long walk.  That process changed my life as I allowed myself to become more creative across all dimensions.

The next year, I read Sarah Ban Breathnach’s Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy. In 365 little essays, one for each day of the year, Breathnach writes about ‘six practical, creative, and spiritual principles – gratitude, simplicity, order, harmony, beauty and joy’. It took some work to transpose meditations about seasons and celebrations applicable in the northern hemisphere to Australia, but the effort was worth every moment.

Much loved books

Much loved books

But over the past few years, some of the foundation elements that made up my well-ordered life have slipped. This is partly the result a dramatic change in life-style brought about by remarrying when I was almost seventy, after living alone for almost thirty-five years; and partly because I’ve become less physically robust as I’ve aged.

Since I sent the completed manuscript of a book to an agent three months ago, my life has been in the limbo of ongoing waiting for her verdict on my work. A writer of any age who isn’t writing can be very grumpy indeed, as well as disorganised and forgetful.

Diary 2014

Diary 2014

Calendar 2014

Calendar 2014

A three-pages-every-morning journal

A three-pages-every-morning journal

THREE TOOLS FOR AN ORGANISED LIFE

Now it is time to change, to return to the simple principles and practices that I love and that help to keep my life ordered, abundant and creative. I am a writer and I write! And I promise to use my diary regularly.

A desk waiting for a writer

A desk waiting for a writer

There’s a happy ending to the story of the meal with my siblings. Yesterday, our brother invited us to his place for dinner tonight. And my sister sent me a reminder message on Facebook, complete with exclamation marks. I’m loved and forgiven.

Advent

Blending two sets of family traditions in a new marriage can be tricky, even for youngsters. John and I are pleased we’ve worked out some Advent customs we both like, even though we were in our seventies when we married six years ago, and should have been more stuck in our ways. Away from the shops and the hype of television and print advertising, we’ve discovered that this season can be one of quiet reflection and hope leading up to the celebration of the coming of the Christ-Child at Christmas.

Advent begins around four weeks before Christmas Day, not always on the same date. The First Sunday of Advent occurs on the Sunday closest to the feast of St. Andrew on 30 November, so that the beginning of Advent is a moveable feast.

Every year, members of my large family gather at my house to make the Christmas puddings. It’s a festive occasion. Everyone stirs the pudding mixture (and taste it!) and has the opportunity to make a wish. According to a British tradition, Christmas puddings are made on the Sunday before the first Sunday of Advent. This is sometimes called ‘Stir-up’ Sunday from the first words in the Collect of the day – ‘Stir up our hearts, O Lord…’

Advent wreath

Advent wreath

Our Advent wreath is made of a circle of greenery that signifies eternity. Decorated with purple flowers, it reflects the liturgical colour for the season. Inside the wreath are three purple candles and one that is rose-coloured . The rose one is known as the Gaudette or ‘joy’ candle because it is lit on the third Sunday of Advent when Christmas is near. On the first Sunday of Advent, John lit one purple candle on our wreath and we continue to light it before the evening meal as we say a short prayer. Each Sunday we will light another candle and the light from the wreath will grow brighter as we get closer to Christmas.

Christmas tree tucked into a corner of the living room

Christmas tree tucked into a corner of the living room

John and I put up the Christmas tree on the Feast of St Nicholas (perhaps the first Santa Claus) on 6th December. There are many traditions surrounding Christmas trees. The one I prefer says that during medieval morality plays, an ever-green tree was used to represent the Garden of Eden. Trees later became associated with Christmas, and were hung with apples and nuts. The apples stood for the fruit of the tree of good and evil.

Our tree is laden with golden baubles; it is very different from the trees my six children and I decorated when they were young and I was an impoverished single parent. In those days, our tree was a branch from one that grew in the garden. Everyone helped to make the decorations from cardboard, painted pine cones and crepe paper. This year’s tree’s a bit lop-sided, but I love it anyway. Soon, we’ll put the wrapped presents underneath.

Preparing for Christmas

Preparing for Christmas

A decorated wreath adorns the front door, announcing to visitors and passers-by that this household is preparing for Christmas.

Christmas Crib

Christmas Crib

We’ve assembled  a crib on the hall stand. It’s a simple depiction of the first Christmas in Bethlehem and far from perfect. After a mishap a couple of decades ago when St Joseph was dropped on the tiles, he has a tendency to lose his head; and there are only two wise men now, instead of three. No one remembers what happened to the man with the gift of gold.

Mary and Joseph and some animals are waiting, but there is no manger yet. After Mass on Christmas  Eve, we’ll take the Infant Jesus out of hiding and place Him in the middle of the stable.

Too often in the past, my preparation for Christmas has  been fraught with too much to do and too many places to go. But these days, for this old couple, Advent is a peaceful, gentle time. Old age has many benefits.

Advent and Christmas reading

Advent and Christmas reading

 

Welcome!

Limoges - off to the shop - CopyCelebrating age

In recent years, I’ve enjoyed my first ride in a helicopter, learned to sail a yacht and spent a weekend helping in the sheep yards on a farm during shearing. At sixty-five,  I went back to university as a full-time student; another year, I published my first book, a memoir, Other People’s Country. At seventy, my best friend and I escaped from our respective families. We married in secret in a very lovely ceremony, and then honeymooned in Paris – my first trip to Europe.

This year, after a shaky start, I’m blogging.

A search for blogs about ‘ageing’, ‘old age’ and ‘growing older’ turned up sites devoted to residential aged care, dementia, incontinence and depression. It also found sites devoted to research into some of the more dismal aspects of old age. I know a bit about all of those through my work as a nurse in aged care facilities. As well as that, before my retirement from full-time work, I was the chief executive officer in a non-government agency that advocates for people who live in residential aged care, as well as those in danger from elder abuse.

There is another, better narrative about growing older. People in their late sixties and seventies are often still in the workforce. We travel; contribute generously to our families and communities; attend the theatre, concerts and festivals; vote; exercise our bodies and minds; learn and grow. We are indignant about the poor treatment sometimes meted out to older people, and not afraid to speak our minds.

Stories about ageing gracefully (and disgracefully) are the ones I hope to celebrate in my blog.

Thank you for visiting!