Improved senior care would be music to their ears, Janine LeGal writes
'If it were me, I'd be taking advantage of legalized euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide'
I saw my mother today and cried while she listened intently to every song I played for her on my smartphone. She used to sing along, in both French and English. Today, with her advancing Alzheimer's, she occasionally mouthed the words instead — still a most beautiful thing to see. She came alive again with the sound of music.
My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease many years ago and has lived in a care home in rural Manitoba for 10 years. I don't get out to see her nearly as much as I should, as much as I'd like to. It's a lovely care home, spacious and bright, unlike the care home she was in before this one, which was, frankly, a horrible, dark and smelly place unfit for taking care of anything or anyone. Fortunately that home was closed down a few years back and remains scheduled for demolition.
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Most of the time I try not to think too much about where my mother is, or the kind of care she gets. I'm sure that the staff are good people, that they do the best they can, but honestly, the way we as a society treat our elders is something I think we could all benefit from reviewing. Every single time I get out to see my mother, I am stunned by the number of residents sitting idly in their wheelchairs, catatonically languishing, essentially waiting to die. At least it feels that way to me.
I'm struck by the sheer isolation and loneliness of others, a desperate neediness in them for human contact. Without visitors, without affection, without creativity, without music. Nothing to inspire hope or beauty or joy of any kind. If I think about it, well, it just hurts too much. Not just for my mother, but for all those who sit in their chairs, just there. Doing nothing. What adds to my sadness is the number of times I've read and heard others tell me the same thing.
There's something really wrong with this picture, isn't there? And maybe we don't talk much about it because it is so terribly wrong and very unpleasant to think about.
Maybe I'm fixing my hopes for "a new day" on the new government because of this time in November, and the way veterans were treated by the last government. Change can be brought if there's new vision and a space for advocacy. Vision that includes compassion so our elders can live the final chapters of their lives in dignity, and with a reason to open their eyes in the morning until the very end. Vision that includes nutritious meals that taste good, activities that build on the interests of people, engagement with the community and volunteers of all ages, environments with colour and texture and sound. And vision that includes the capacity to hire more mindful staff to make all of this happen. Vision that includes care for our care homes.
I often ask myself how I'd do in a place where my daily moments consist of sitting strapped in a chair watching television shows I never wanted to see, never interacting with anyone except over very basic needs. Is this okay for our loved ones? If it were me, I'd be taking advantage of legalized euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide.
My mother comes alive with the sound of music, even in the deepest places Alzheimer's disease takes her. Our seniors deserve better than they're getting — much, much better. My mother will be 88 at the end of the month. Maybe on my next visit I should think about bringing some musician friends along, or a flash mob so all of the residents can party. It's time to bring back the reasons to hope — to bring back the sound of music.
Janine LeGal is a Winnipeg freelance writer and a grassroots activist.