Dear Life: On Caring for the Elderly

Four weeks ago, my father had a massive stroke. For a few days, we thought we were going to lose him; thankfully, he is still with us, but he has lost much of his movement, most of his speech, and perhaps part of his memory. It's impossible for my mother to care for him at home, so this vigorous, independent, self-contained man has had to submit to his worst nightmare: a nursing home.

I've long admired Karen Hitchcock's columns in The Monthly; this longer piece is similarly compassionate, thoughtful, complex and confronting. Now my beloved father has joined their ranks, I share her fury at the ease with which the elderly in our society can be written off as 'not worth treating.' Dad received the best of care in hospital (and hopefully will continue to receive it in his new home), from gentle nurses and thoughtful orderlies (thank you, Theo, for taking Dad out into the courtyard to feel some fresh air on his face, and for turning on his radio so he could escape into music). But there were also the doctors who spoke over his bed as if he couldn't hear or understand, who treated him as a collection of symptoms, a failed procedure, rather than a person.

I urge everyone in the health profession to read this essay, and also everyone who has an elderly relative, or who hopes to live to be old themselves one day.


  1. Kate, I'm sorry to hear about your father. I was my mother's carer for five years. There were wonderful people involved in her care - and not so wonderful. It was wrenching to see my intelligent, able mother treated like a child because her body no longer worked. All the best from Susan

  2. Thank you, Susan. I'm so sorry about your mother, but I guess those last few years become a precious time, even though they are so hard.
    Thankfully my dad is doing much better. As you say, just because his body (and his mouth) are not working properly, doesn't mean that he isn't in there! And we can still laugh and cry together, which is a blessing.
    Thanks again x

  3. Thinking of you (all) every day, Kate. Out of all health workers, it is interesting that doctors often get the worst reviews.
    Speaking of reviews -- I am so impressed by the breadth, number and frequency of your book reviews here, Kate!!
    Sending all of you much love. Hope to see you soon xx