Old Age Savings (Part 1)

By Jim McVeagh 07/10/2009

This article on Stuff caught my eye. It is about an elderly lady who was apparently “assessed” over the phone and her home help removed. The article initially grabbed my attention because it is quite unusual for an elderly person to have home help removed, unless the home help was temporarily funded by ACC following an accident. This home help, however, appears to be the normal stuff  this lady has to help her function at home. Usually, the elderly gradually need more home help, not less.

It seems like at least one of the Canterbury DHB board members were not comfortable with the idea of old folk being reassessed over the phone. He has every right to be unhappy. It is, quite possibly, the stupidest idea I have ever heard. Even the assurance that the phone assessments will only be done for those with”less complex needs” is quite bizarre. Exactly how do you tell if an older person has “less complex needs” without formally reassessing them? This sounds to me like purest guesswork to me.

The elderly are notorious for over-estimating their abilities. Especially the ones who have always been very active. Over the telephone, they will often paint a rosy picture of their abilities that is totally out of keeping with reality. The article suggests that they may be lying because they are afraid of being placed in a nursing home. Actually, most older folk truly believe that they can do the things they claim. Unfortunately, there is no way for a person on the end of a telephone to judge how safe an elderly person is in that environment. Aunt Mabel might be telling you she can vacuum the floors easily, but her balance may be so poor that it would only be a matter of time before she falls and injures herself, if she attempted to vacuum. She might be capable of boiling an egg, but forgets to turn off the stove afterwards. She can make her own bed, but gets dizzy while she is doing it. These are all things you find out be watching her, not by talking to her.

But it seems that Canterbury DHB is operating in an alternate reality:

The Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) decided in August that home help for some elderly would be cut and fewer people would be funded to live in rest homes.

Sorry guys, but in my universe, if you remove home help from the elderly, you will need more rest-home beds, not fewer. Some of the people you remove home help from will cope. Some will gradually become dysfunctional – and reinstating the home help may be too late (Once the very elderly lose muscle strength, it is very hard to get it back). Some, of course, will simply fall over and break something – their arm, their hip. Rehabilitation for these folk will cost you far, far more than your paltry home help savings. And some in this latter category will die, whereupon their relatives will proceed to make your life miserable. Which you will richly deserve.

This is an extremely dumb move which Canterbury DHB would be wise to abandon immediately. At the very least they should do a formal home assessment before deciding about the level of home help required.