During my father Leslie's final months, his worsening dementia meant he spent much of his time staring into the middle distance. He was soothed by sedatives, and the twinkle in his eyes that I remembered as a boy was long gone.
Still, there would still be a glimmer of my old father, the man whose wonderful sense of humor had helped make my childhood home so loving and happy.
Occasionally he would even try a joke, and there was never a time when I didn't see the joy of recognition in his eyes when I walked into the room: a joy that was reflected in my mother Phyllis, which later also ravaged suffered from dementia, but who has retained enough of her fun-loving spirit to be outrageously flirting with my son Luke, her grandson, on our regular visits.
Not for a moment did I underestimate the power of this simple exchange or the quiet moments when we sat together and my hand held that of mom or dad.
I thank God my parents are no longer alive today to endure the treatment that was given to nursing home residents after the coronavirus pandemic – treatment that I can only describe as stupid and inhuman. Pictured: actor Tony Robinson with a picture of his mother
As anyone who cares for a loved one knows, sometimes the only language you need is the touch of someone you care for.
Both of my parents have been gone a long time. My father died in 1989 at the age of 79, followed by my mother in 2005, and although not a day goes by that I do not miss them both, I thank God that today they no longer live to endure the treatment that she was met after the coronavirus pandemic to care for home residents – a treatment I can only describe as stupid and inhuman.
It's hard to shake the feeling that they haven't had meaningful contact with their families in the past eight months, waving to loved ones through windows, Plexiglas screens, or, in the worst case, even drive-through visits, completely abandoned.
What other word than "leave" would explain the photo posted on the front page of the Mail this week of Irene Stallard kneeling on a sidewalk by a railing so she can make eye contact with her husband Dave at his West Sussex nursing home ?
It's hard to shake the feeling that they haven't had meaningful contact with their families in the past eight months, waving to loved ones through windows, Plexiglas screens, or, in the worst case, even drive-through visits, completely abandoned. Pictured: Freda Maddison, 92, sees her son on a screen for the first time in months
It is the bitterest irony: the desire to protect the most defenseless members of society has instead made the past few months unbearable for far too many and also scared their loved ones.
Just yesterday, Lucy Glynn-Large told the Mail that she couldn't believe how drastically her dementia mother, Georgina Culton, 76, had deteriorated after being banned from personal contact with loved ones.
"I was so shocked," said Lucy, 46. "She looked so sad … I feel like she's disappearing right in front of me."
These troubling stories are complemented by devastating new statistics showing the price our most vulnerable must pay in the face of draconian restrictions imposed in March.
Persistent social isolation accelerates dementia in countless cases.
One of the cruelest unintended consequences of the nursing home rules is the huge increase in deaths from other causes they have led to: New figures show that there were more than 5,000 additional deaths from dementia in the first four months of lockdown than what is usually the case would .
Foster home managers across the country tell of residents who simply give up their lives after being deprived of one thing – the sight and touch of a loved one – that gives them comfort.
What other word than "leave" would explain the photo Irene Stallard posted on the front page of The Mail this week kneeling on a sidewalk by a railing so she can make eye contact with her husband Dave at his West Sussex nursing home?
This is just one reason I wholeheartedly welcome the Mail's campaign to enable nursing home residents to reunite with loved ones in time for Christmas: a long overdue call to arms launched by myriad charities, doctors, MPs and desperate families are supported, and one that is of immense personal importance to me.
Aside from my children and my job, Alzheimer's and dementia had been my life for almost fifteen years.
And today, as the Alzheimer's Society Ambassador, I continue to strive to improve both general care for the elderly and understanding of these conditions.
The terrible reality is that almost everyone reading this will have their lives in some way affected by dementia which affects 850,000 people in the UK.
One in three people born this year is expected to develop the disease, while of the 411,000 residents in UK care homes, 70 percent have dementia.
Behind these faceless numbers, however, there are countless stories about individual hardship and heartbreak: emotions that I know only too well. For many years my burgeoning professional success was fueled by a sense of tremendous emotional loss as I watched my father succumb to an illness in his seventies that stole his enthusiasm and joy.
Just yesterday, Lucy Glynn-Large told the mail that she couldn't believe how drastically her dementia mother Georgina Culton (76) (right) had deteriorated because she had been banned from personal contact with loved ones. (Pictured together last year)
The latest photo of Georgina took FaceTime Monday. "I was so shocked," said Lucy, 46. "She looked so sad… I feel like she's disappearing right in front of me."
Dad was a working class boy who had tried to become a respected administrator with London County Council. He was also a talented artist who spent part of his military service in the RAF teaching himself how to play the boogie piano.
His love for music was so great that there was a baby grand piano next to our three-part suite in the living room of our suburban home. While Mama's love of amateur drama meant I grew up not only with the Glenn Miller Band, but also with Terence Rattigan and Noel Coward.
It meant that, far from being appalled at my theatrical inclinations, they warmly encouraged me – for which I am deeply grateful. Even as my 20s and 30s progressed with little commercial success, they remained immensely proud.
In fact, my father's demise coincided with the start of Blackadder – the TV show that catapulted me into the spotlight thanks to my role as the unfortunate servant Baldrick. As I became more and more successful, my father became more and more anxious.
There were all sorts of little episodes that marked his downfall: I remember Mom calling me one night at midnight to tell me Dad had asked her to get all the cups out of the closet and put them on the table, so that the handles pointed to the northeast.
It was the beginning of two or three difficult years during which he grew more and more desperate and confused, until, for the most part reassured, he could do little more than stare into the distance. Still, I never doubted the lasting bond between us.
One of the most moving moments of my life was the week before his death in 1989 – thankfully at home – when I appeared on the front page of the Radio Times alongside Blackadder star Rowan Atkinson.
It was a moment that marked that I had "arrived" if you like: and to this day I appreciate the fact that I was able to share it with him. While he said nothing, he stared proudly at the picture.
My mother's downfall was different. Anyone familiar with dementia will know its multiple horrors.
My mother's downfall was different. Anyone familiar with dementia will know its multiple horrors. Mama was in many ways unrecognizable from the lively woman I remembered, but she was still in there somewhere. I could see the real her in the way her face lit up when my son Luke walked into the room and in her delight in the little sherry trinket I brought with me every time I visited. (Tony and his mother pictured together)
She was in her eighties and was still living at home when she went to the hospital for a minor operation. When she appeared she was deeply confused.
Over time, this confusion grew and evolved into complete dementia over the next two or three years. Ultimately, this meant she had to move to a nursing home, where she lived for eight years until her death at the age of 89.
Mom was unrecognizable in many ways from the vivacious woman I remembered, but she was still in there somewhere.
I could see the real her in the way her face lit up when my son Luke walked into the room and in her delight in the little sherry trinket I brought with me every time I visited.
It was just small things, but an important reminder of the humanity of a generation that was dehumanized and marginalized not just by this pandemic, but over many decades – decades in which we know the number of older people is increasing exponentially, but in virtually nothing has been done to confront what this means.
Perhaps it was inevitable that the pandemic would hit those who were least equipped the hardest.
Of course, when this pandemic began, the government had tremendous complexity in navigating and mistakes would inevitably be made.
But it was grotesquely unfair that the over-seventies, by and large, paid the highest price.
Right from the start, I was impressed by the insane double-thinking of the Covid rules, which urged healthy people, often over the age of seventy, to stay in their homes, and at the same time legitimized the dumping of older people suffering from the virus – there is no other Word for it from their hospital beds in nursing homes which effectively turn them into ghettos.
It is something that I consider nothing short of a scandal – and that any future public inquiry will need to thoroughly investigate.
Months later, the government's approach still seems illogical. Now the weakest are kept apart from loved ones – in many cases for eight months and counted – while healthy over seventies are still punished.
In my line of business – broadcasting – a new "back-to-work" program after the lockdown does not include the over seventies.
While part of this is based on an understandable desire to protect those most at risk for Covid, it can also be understood as another clear reminder that after the transition into your eighth decade, you are no longer of value.
Ylenia Angeli (right), mother of Coronation Street actress Leandra Ashton (left), was recently arrested by police on suspicion of assault. She had tried to get her 97-year-old mother Tina Thornborough (center) out of a care facility and bring her home before lockdown
Despite best efforts, the bureaucracy can never suppress the human urge to connect.
I know if my parents were in a nursing home today, my longing to see them would be so great that I would be tempted to open the door to give them a hug.
So I have nothing but sympathy for those who tried to do just that, including Ylenia Angeli, mother of Coronation Street actress Leandra Ashton, who was recently arrested by police on suspicion of assault.
She had tried to get her 97-year-old mother Tina Thornborough out of a care facility and bring her home before the lockdown. She hadn't been able to put her arms around her since March.
Is that what we came to be? As a nation, we understand that we must protect the vulnerable from Covid and that nursing homes must be treated with special care.
But there has to be a balance, and that balance doesn't mean that a parent can see their child only through a glass like an animal in a zoo.
Sometimes the best medicine is a chance to hold the hand of the person we love.
Withhold this from our elderly people is incredibly cruel – especially cruel when there are solutions, including rapid tests, the capacity of which is completely underutilized to the anger of nursing home staff.
The old saying goes that a society can be measured by how it treats older people. Britain has suffered for too long – and the pandemic has only made things worse.
It is high time the government put an end to their cruel and unnecessary suffering.
Sir Tony Robinson is Ambassador for the Alzheimer Society and Age UK.
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