The art of caring

"Since nothing is known about the cause of the disease there is no treatment prescribed. It is only love and care that we can give the patients and these are certainly pain relievers."  

Caring for old people is an art. Their needs are different. If there is an illness or problem caused by old age, the `care giver' needs to be specially trained, says Jean M. Bedell, a nurse from Colorado.

A consultant in Gerentology, with decades of experience in the field, Ms. Bedell was here recently to take a class for people who look after patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease. The needs and problems of these patients are different and they need to be addressed in their own way, she says.

Contrary to popular belief, only five per cent of the aged go to nursing homes or homes for the aged in the U.S. "Going to a nursing home is very depressing for the aged," she adds. "In fact, older people make their children promise that they would not send them to nursing homes," Ms. Bedell says.

Older people get more support from families here than in the U.S. where they are more scattered, she feels.

Life expectancy in the U.S. is 85 years and the elderly are the fastest growing age group, Ms. Bedell says.

Talking about Alzheimer's disease, she says that American society has an open mind. The family of the former President of the U.S., Ronald Reagan, had done much to spread awareness about the disease ever since Mr. Reagan was diagnosed with this illness, Ms. Bedell says.

"The Nobel prize is a certainty for the person who finds out the cause of Alzheimer's disease," Ms. Bedell says. "Since nothing is known about the cause of the disease there is no treatment prescribed. It is only love and care that we can give the patients and these are certainly pain relievers," she adds.

Healthcare costs are rather high in the U.S., hence it is financially tough for families that are forced to bear the cost of treatment at hospitals and nursing homes. `Assisted homes' have come up in the U.S. to address the special needs of the aged. These are independent rooms or flats in a complex where they have common mess facilities and nurses and other helpers to take care of them, provide medicines, clean up their living quarters and so on.

Ms. Bedell feels that Geriatric care needs to go a long way here. Even in developed countries, there are only a few centres for geriatric studies, she says.

In Kerala, people over the age of 60 constitute 10.9 per cent of the total population, which is much higher than the national figure of 7.8 per cent.

Though she is visiting Kerala for the first time, Ms. Bedell is familiar with India and its people and social structure, since she and her husband, Richard Bedell, who is a paediatrician, have been visiting the country quite regularly during the last 25 years.

"We first came to Miraj in Maharashtra in association with the Mission Hospital there," Ms. Bedell says. Since then the couple has been to several Indian cities and towns.

"We like the people, the colourful clothes and the food very much," she adds. Ms. Bedell has taken nursing classes and done community work at various hospitals in Kolkata, Ludhiana, Karad in Karnataka, Madurai and other places.

A grandmother, Ms. Bedell, in her youth, used to work as a paramedic in hospitals before enrolling for a full-fledged nursing course at a university. Later she took up Gerentology as her speciality.

Photo: Vipin C. Babu