Friday, 22 December 2017

Staying Together

Many years ago, as a new social worker in a large hospital, an elderly couple came in together with two different issues and were admitted to my floor. They had been married well over 60 years and had never spent time apart. The husband had dementia but knew his wife. In the day they found each other but they were in separate rooms and the staff were faced with a problem every night when he would wander the halls and climb into bed with other female patients. We realized that he was looking for his wife at bedtime. I began to advocate to allow them to share a room and was faced with opposition as this was not something the hospital had ever done or entertained. Unfortunately, they each had different medical issues and could not return home.
I was reminded of this story this week when I read of the New Brunswick couple, separated after 69 years of marriage because his dementia had worsened and he was deemed to need a level of care not offered in the home he and his wife lived in. 
My story had a bittersweet ending - after many calls and much advocacy, I found a place that would take our couple on the same day. They would be in different areas of the residence but staff would do their best to bring them together as often as possible so they could visit. Not ideal but at least an understanding that for whatever time they had left, they needed to be together as much as possible. 
For the New Brunswick couple, this understanding was clearly not there. Separated this week, the family resorted to calling the press to share their story. 
I am sad that this many years later, with more couples aging together, we don't have a proper mechanism in place to ensure that at this last stage of their lives, they remain under the same roof regardless of differing care needs. As our health care system continues to evolve, this is definitely something that should be added to the list of 'must haves'. We need to find ways to allow couples at different levels of care to stay together and live out the remainder of their days in each other's company. 

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