Lona Patrick has Parkinson’s disease. Her condition has taken a turn and she is in severe pain, losing her voice and struggling to swallow. Lona is 87 and a fashion designer, and although her condition makes it difficult, she spends her days knitting teddy bears.
Lona’s daughter Kathie Melocco tells Crikey her mother feels she has lost her autonomy while battling Parkinson’s during COVID lockdowns and isolation.
Kathie recently spent the night on her mother’s floor, just to be with her and provide comfort: “The people I see every day at the home — we love our families and we want to be with them.”
Kathie volunteers at her mother’s aged care facility, and she’s observed the stoicism residents have adopted to cope with the loneliness.
“People forget that when you go into aged care, it is your last home,” she said. “All we can hope for is a so-called good death, where you can have loved ones around you.”
Kathie thinks COVID has robbed so many elderly Australians of the chance to have a peaceful death: “The thought of my mother dying without me being there to hold her hand horrifies me.”
A vital part of what aged care provides for people nearing the end of their lives is a sense of community and connection as they manage the conditions that leave them needing full-time care. Kathie says a large part of the community her mother used to rely on in her home is now gone.
“The facility used to be beautiful, but much has been removed and it now feels sterile'” she said. “There used to be a coffee shop that was a hive of activity — but it was closed because of COVID, and the residents have suffered greatly from losing the social connection it provided.
“COVID creates chaos in a place that should foster community. Sufficient preparation could have found a way to both balance the risk of COVID, without stripping away the community [that] aged care relies on.”
As a volunteer, Kathie has seen many of the structural issues that have led to this crisis. She says the lack of cohesion and cooperation between state-run health and federal aged care has left “each aged care facility to learn to manage things themselves”.
She added: “Overlaying all the issues COVID has presented is that there was no dignity or respect in the aged care sector before all this.”
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