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Dignity and respect must be at heart of elderly care

Earlier this year, author and broadcaster Sally Magnusson spoke movingly about her late mother's dementia.

One of her most startling observations concerned the "false comfort" society draws from assuming that people in the advanced stages of the condition are "so unaware that frankly you can set them aside because they're not really feeling anything anyway. They're not themselves. It was a painful revelation to discover how much my mother was aware right the way through of what she was losing, this sense of herself being inched away from her".

With incidence of dementia expected to double over the next 25 years, it is incumbent upon us to remember that no matter how frail or confused they may be, there is no excuse for failing to treat elderly people with dignity and respect.

As anyone who has cared for a cognitively impaired loved one or patient will confirm, the challenges can be immense - and it appears that, as a society, we are not meeting them. Magnusson herself described the care system for people with dementia as "not fit for purpose", adding that we tend to treat those with the disease as "less than human". And it is disturbing to learn that basic needs for nutrition, hydration and dignity are not always being met.

Healthcare Improvement Scotland, which exists to monitor standards, has identified more than 300 improvements needed to address failings in elderly patient care but as we reveal today, there are serious doubts as to whether the problems uncovered are being adequately dealt with.

Age Scotland warns that hospitals appear to be "struggling to provide the quality of care and dignity that older people deserve", and it is shocking to learn that seven months after concerns were raised about Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy, one frail, elderly patient was left unnourished for 10 days.

HIS says inspections are ongoing and the Scottish Government insists there is "a robust scrutiny regime" across the health service.

Unless that scrutiny is accompanied by rigorous measures to address inadequacies, however, then our NHS is failing in its duty to treat Scotland's most vulnerable citizens with dignity, respect and compassion. For everyone with ageing loved ones, or an awareness of their own advancing years, that is a matter of the utmost concern.

Contextual targeting label: 
Health

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