What a terrible thing dementia is, and no wonder it requires specialist care. Alzheimer’s is the nastiest variety, but there are many forms that can turn once benign old people into rather frightening figures, because their irrational terror is infectious. You straighten Elsie’s cardigan, and she shrieks: “You’re trying to kill me!” Her cries penetrate the mental fog of the other residents in the room and soon they are all agitated.
How can even the capable Sir Gerry Robinson, former chief executive of Granada, hope to “fix” these homes when dementia itself is unfixable? We shall have to wait for the second programme to hear his full proposals, but it didn’t take more than a few minutes to identify one scandal. The first home he visited was Woodland House in Torquay, a privately owned dementia home funded by the local authority. It was managed by Jane, a tubby nurse who said cheerfully, “These are our little residents,” indicating a circle of mournful – and not noticeably little – old people left to stagnate in a dingy lounge.
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