Portraying an Accurate Image of the Elderly
To the Editor:
I am dismayed that the Journal of Gerontological Nursing, a juried publication which I have enjoyed for its high calibre of literature, would publish "Clothing Gifts for the Nursing Home Patient," which appeared in the April 1986 issue. It is the most condescending and prescriptive work I have read in several years, and I believe it promotes infantilization and depersonal ization of the elderly.
What kind of image is promoted by the advice to purchase dark-colored sweaters ". . . which do not bear obvious witness to food or medication spotting"? As for the statement that bright ribbons ". . . look quite perky in the hair of totally bed-confined patients," really - how many adult women want to look "perky" with hair ribbons? Clothing preferences are highly personal, but there was not one single reference to consulting with the individual, much less a suggestion that the patient might want to go on a shopping trip. The style of this article is sadly out of date with gerontological nursing today, and that is unfortunate because useful information was included.
Anita Wildgrube, BScN, RN
Community Health Nursing Coordinator
Seniors Health Programs
Public Health Services
My article, "Clothing Gifts for the Nursing Home Patient," was intended to give nurses, administration, and ancillary personnel in convalescent hospitals a comfortable way to suggest usable and appreciated clothing and gift items to a patient's family and friends. The concept was initiated by a supervisor in a skilled nursing facility after a 92-year-old, wheelchair-confined, incontinent patient, who was always cold, received an exquisite, pale turquoise negligee as a present.
For a magazine as specialized as the Journal of Gerontological Nursing, I did not feel it necessary to tell readers what they already know; ie, that some convalescent facility patients are incontinent, senile, or quadriplegic, or that some have Alzheimer's, severe rheumatoid arthritis, terminal illness, or dysphagia. Some also have ill-fitting dentures or refuse to wear them, which contributes to food droppage on clothing. Pale pink angora sweaters look lovely in a gift box, but a dark blue, washable sweater hides spaghetti sauce stains better.
Sometimes, for those totally bed-confined, essentially nonmoving, organic brain syndrome patients, who are kept in stark hospital gowns, there isn't much concerned family members can purchase. A bright, clip-on barrette or hair ribbon is inexpensive and does look quite "perky," and can lighten the load for both family and nursing staff. I'm sorry if the word "perky" offends you; that happens to be an expression I use.
It is certainly true that I should have suggested taking the patient out for a shopping trip, if that is feasible in terms of the patient's health and safety. Unfortunately, some nursing home patients are too ill to leave the facility, some are too senile for the layperson to cope with, and some family members are not well enough themselves to handle a heavy wheelchair.
I have been in the medical profession for 25 years and, in addition to being an RPT, have a master's degree in mass communication and journalism. It would never occur to me to be condescending to any of my patients, young or old, or to any of my fellow medical professionals.
I appreciate your taking the time to write. In the increasingly difficult world of medicine today, we fight together, each in our own way, for quality care.
Pat Kite, MS, RPT
Care Home Health