Why do we let our elderly die of broken hearts? | Michele Hanson

Social services don’t seem to mind putting lifelong couples into different care homes, even though the separation can prove fatal

Some encouraging news for a change. A senior family judge, Sir James Munby, has stated it is inhuman to separate elderly couples who have spent decades together, and stick them in different care homes. I hope social services pay attention because, as he points out, people really do die “from what we colloquially call a broken heart”. But will councils stop this wretched carry-on at once? I suspect not, because more than a decade ago they were warned that they might be in breach of the Human Rights Act by forcing elderly married couples to live apart, and here they are, still at it. Sometimes you can’t even have your dog to stay, never mind your spouse. It’s usually to do with money, but one double hotel room is always cheaper than two singles, so why not in care homes?

There seems to be a general stinginess towards older people, as if we’ve had our turn, we’re on the way out, we’re a bit dim and useless, so why bother providing us with anything but the bare necessities? I have long banged on about the rubbish food provided in many care homes, particularly the large chains, but has it made a smidgin of difference? No, it has not. Perhaps they think our tastebuds die out, along with our sight, hearing and capacity and need for love. As there is a “loneliness epidemic affecting 1.2 million older people in England”, why on earth split up the ones who do have a beloved partner to live with? Perhaps councils should learn from animal sanctuaries. Did you hear of the rescued goat who stopped eating for days and almost pegged out when separated from his companion of 10 years, a donkey? Luckily the rescuers understood the problem, reunited them and Mr Goat perked up at once. And what about the elderly wombat rescued on the verge of death, wrapped up warmly and cuddled back to life? If chums, cuddles and affection are vital for goats, donkeys and wombats, why not for elderly humans? We need all that, too. Please, councils, obey the judge. Starting now.

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