Back a few months, in December ’13, a couple on the Celebrity Millennium, cruising in Australia, were put off the ship in Cairns because a woman with dementia had been left aboard alone while her husband took a tour.
The manner with which Celebrity cruise line reacted to this situation drew reactions that ran the gambit, from appalled, to startled, to applauded.
In his initial response to the incident (as reported in the story by the Cairns Post) the couple’s nephew said ” This is disgusting way to treat an elderly couple, without even trying to resolve the issue at hand”. While it seems easy to sympathize with that position, and feel for the couple who found themselves put off the ship, I do think it is necessary to examine the situation a bit more thoroughly, because it involves the disease of dementia.
Dementia is a disease of the mind that little is known about, and which has no known cure. And, as well, the general public has very little understanding of it.
Sadly I have quite a bit of personal experience with this subject. Over the past 5 years I have witnessed the deterioration of my mother’s mind, due to her dementia. As my father had previously passed away, and I am her only child living in the city, the responsibility of assuring her care and well being fell to me.
It is also the reason I have just taken a month’s leave from writing this blog, as her situation required much more of my attention. And, though I considered writing about this situation when it occurred, I avoided it, rather than face it.
No two people suffering from dementia suffer from it in the same way. Indeed, there’s all variety of how drastically the disease affects the individuals behavior as it progresses. What is true is that it most commonly attacks the elderly, and normally the elderly have other medical conditions that can complicate and compound the effects of the dementia.
Following medical advice from geriatric and dementia specialists, we have kept my mother in her own home, rather than any type of live-in facility. We were advised that keeping her in her home, in familiar surroundings, and in familiar activities, would most likely assist somewhat in staving off the full blown effects of the disease. Her health care professionals suggested that taking her out of her own home would in fact likely shorten her life.
At the present time my mother has almost zero short term memory, and we recognized several years ago, that she was in a position that she could no longer be left alone, even for a short time. I was incredibly lucky to find, and be able to afford, wonderful 24 hr. live-in caregivers for my mother.
I understand in many situations, the care for those afflicted with this disease are their spouses. And, I certainly understand how that responsibility can be a heavy weight to bare, and incredibly stressful for those spouses in that position. No doubt, in this situation, Mr. Arnold was attempting to do what he thought best to care for his wife, and to do what he thought would bring his wife some happiness. That is exactly what most families faced with the care of dementia patients do.
With so few facts available to the public it does raise some questions in my mind; first of which is whether Mr. Arnold consulted with Mrs. Arnold’s medical advisors before even begin planning this cruise. I also have to wonder how well Mrs. Arnold could care for herself at home.
The report stated Mrs. Arnold was found on the ship, disoriented, and crying and she could not find her cabin. Mr. Arnold had departed from the ship to tour Cairns. After Mrs. Arnold was discovered by staff, and taken to the medical center, the ship attempted unsuccessfully to contact Mr. Arnold on shore.
There were probably several options for the cruise line to handle the situation presented to them. And perhaps they could have found a more sensitive solution.
However, as much empathy as I have for Mr. Arnold’s situation, it was indeed his responsibility to provide the care for his wife once he had made the decision to take her on a cruise. To me it is unfathomable how he could then leave her on the ship, while he went touring, without assuring she was cared for the entire time he was away. Frankly, there was so much more that could have gone horribly wrong in that situation. The Arnold’s were actually lucky more didn’t go wrong.
What bothered me, reading all the reports of this incident at the time, was that Mr. Arnold never stood up to accept his share of the responsibility, at the time. His actions set in motion a series of events which would have never occurred if he hadn’t left his wife, suffering from dementia, onboard the ship on her own. I would have to guess that his wife had some other medical issues which prevented her from going on tour with her husband. But that only amplifies the egregious decision Mr. Arnold made.
I honestly, very well understand Mr. Arnold’s motivation to take his wife on a cruise. I myself have seen other people, with even more serious medical conditions go on cruises to satisfy a loved one’s request, or in at attempt to share happier moments. But in those cases, those accompanying those sick people made all necessary arrangements in advance to care for and deal with critical situations, if they arose. They didn’t leave it to the cruise line to assume that responsibility.
I am not saying that people with health concerns shouldn’t cruise. I do however believe they shouldn’t expect the cruise lines to be, or replace, their caregivers.
- A View From The Kuki Side of Cruising -