By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
The Right Reverend Paul Mason is the Military Bishop for England and Wales. He is also the Lead Bishop for Health and Social Care. An article he wrote appeared on Wednesday in the online edition of The Tablet. It was subsequently posted on the Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales website on Thursday.
Dementia patients most vulnerable
Bishop Mason touches on a critical aspect of care for the elderly and other persons in assisted living or nursing facilities who suffer from dementia and other forms of diseases that affect the mind. “People suffering with dementia are some of the most vulnerable in our society,” the Bishop states. What they deserve, he says, is “all the love we can muster.”
And yet, with Covid-19 restrictions locking out loved ones, the one thing they need is beyond their grasp. Their needs “can be neglected”, the Bishop continues, at times “assumptions made about what is best for them” and their loved ones “who wish to visit them.”
Need for love ones
Bishop Mason reminds us that just because a person’s ability to reason or remember may be impaired, their ability to feel may not be. Rather, “meaningful human interactions can make a real difference” in how the particular disease progresses.
Care staff in some facilities have left their own families for “weeks or even months”, Bishop Mason recounts, owing to the Covid-19 restrictions. Even though they have demonstrated such “great sacrifice” and some also “tragically lost their lives as a result of Covid-19,” professional care is not enough.
There is an irreplaceable role that can only be filled by the patients’ loved ones: sitting “with a resident for long periods, talking or reading to them, playing them music, holding their hand.” Lack of such loving interaction can hasten either the deterioration of the disease or even death, Bishop Mason notes.
Love vs broken heart
The disconnection is experienced both by the loved ones, as well as by the resident receiving care, Bishop Mason writes. He also cites Dr Donald Macaskill, CEO of Scottish Care, who has shared experiences of dementia patients in care homes “dying of a broken heart due to a lack of contact with their loved ones.”
Bishop Mason leaves us with the question regarding the fine line between safety, protecting ourselves and others, and the “purpose of being alive.” And he proposes that the answer be love when the alternative is dying of a broken heart.