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I went to an aged care facility – this is what I saw

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I had been asked to see a single, elderly man who , following a fall at his home of over 30 years, had been, as they say, ‘placed’ in the facility, some one week before, by his energetic and attentive enduring attorneys .

At first sight, he looked remarkably well. He had, as he said, ‘dressed up’ for my visit and had been waiting patiently for me in the reception area. He smiled when he met me. He was ‘ambulatory’ and engaged.  In my first discussion with him, he was clearly distressed about being where he was. His small room with a single bed and shared ensuite was a little piece of Lilliput, a universe away from the lifestyle and freedom of choice he enjoyed his own home.

His enduring attorneys, perhaps well-intentioned, decided that a fall was enough to bubble wrap and hermetically seal him in the protective micro living of the facility. He won’t get up to any dangerous mischief there, such as falling, will he?

Suffice to say, after protracted negotiations, the time finally came for his release some 3 days later. I was there to facilitate his ‘discharge’ but his enduring attorneys were not. He was on his way home.

I have two reflections, in particular, on my experience with him.

The right to take risks in later life is an important part of happiness – experts describe it as the dignity of risk. Sure he may fall on his return home but he may just as easily fall in a nursing home. When it comes to where we would all prefer to fall, the answer is almost unanimous.

But the other abiding memory of my experience was the aged care facility. It took us some 20 minutes to leave the facility. It wasn’t because of any last minute hitch or paperwork. He simply needed the time to say goodbye to the staff. The hugs, kisses and affection that flowed between him and the staff was poignant – and it was genuine. He hated being there, but he loved those who were there with him.

For all the care nightmares emanating from the Royal Commission, there are some real and endearing good news stories. Most of them will probably never be told. At least I can tell this one.

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