Home » News » He died in the evening, she the morning after: the death of a couple in an old people’s home raises questions – Switzerland

He died in the evening, she the morning after: the death of a couple in an old people’s home raises questions – Switzerland

Martha and Sepp Thalmann were married for 66 years. They spent the many years together very closely. He was the caretaker of the Lucerne School of Applied Arts. That was an office in which the wife was always included. Work and place of residence were the same. Until they retired, they lived in the caretaker’s apartment in which they had raised seven children.

Their strengths complemented each other in old age. She was physically fit, he was mentally. Even at the age of 88, she still cooked tasty meals; he filled out the tax return himself at the age of 93. But she had mild dementia and he had problems with his lungs, heart and shoulders. A year ago they therefore decided to move into a retirement home.

The stay at the Eichhof elderly center in Lucerne was marked by Corona from day one. In the first week of lockdown in March, they moved into a 2½-room apartment. As soon as they arrived they were locked up. But that’s how they survived the first wave.

In the second wave, the virus spread in Eichhof. A note was stuck to many doors: “Isolation”. The Thalmanns fell ill at the same time. On December 10th both received the positive test result. They just lay in bed, could hardly speak, and could no longer eat or drink. They were not transferred to the hospital because they had advance directives. It contained the following sentence: “It’s not about giving life more days, but about giving more life to days.”

Shortly before death, the couple separated. Because he fell out of bed at night, he was transferred to the nursing department. They said goodbye to each other. Then a pastor came for the final rites.

Sepp Thalmann died alone. When a nurse came into the room on December 17th at 10:15 p.m. to bring him a new vial of morphine, she declared she was dead.

Martha Thalmann died the next morning at 8:30 a.m.

Sepp Thalmann had financed and planned his funeral years ago. For example, he wanted his son Bruno to play “Ave Maria” on the trumpet. Sepp Thalmann was a well-known wind musician, composer and conductor. He had already organized the party because he wanted to relieve his wife of the work. He always assumed that he would die before her, even if he had expected a longer period of time. Now the celebration took place for both of them.

In the obituary notice, the family paid tribute to the couple with a picture of them putting their arm around him. They are smiling at the camera. The relatives wrote: “We had to watch powerlessly as this virus robs your life.” That triggered a lot of sympathy. The family received more than 200 letters of condolence.

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The bereaved wanted to set an example with the advertisement. Son Bruno Thalmann explains: “You can now say that 93 and 88 are a good age. That is indeed the case, but it does not comfort us about this loss, which could actually have been avoided. ” He criticizes the decision of the Lucerne government, with which it relaxed the visiting regulations in retirement and nursing homes in October. Visits were again allowed directly in the living area and no longer only in the visitor room behind Plexiglas. In addition, the home’s protection concept did not work. He says: “The old people’s home became a death trap for my parents.”

The Eichhof senior citizen center is operated by Viva Luzern AG. The company does not disclose the number of infections and deaths in its five homes and rejects the criticism. With her protective measures, she keeps the risk of illnesses as low as possible, she writes on request.

Switzerland is the land of old people’s homes

Tragedies like those in Lucerne are currently playing out across Switzerland. The majority of the more than 7,500 deaths in Switzerland are residents of old people’s homes.

A statistical peculiarity in Switzerland is the proportion of people over 80 who live in retirement and nursing homes. It’s 16 percent. In a survey by the OECD country alliance, Switzerland ranks first. However, the organization had not received reliable figures from all countries. In previous surveys, where data were available from more countries, only two other countries had similarly high values: Iceland and Belgium.

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Retirement homes have a long tradition in Switzerland. As early as the 18th century, the parishes looked after old and poor people and founded community homes. To this day, the retirement and nursing homes are a task of the municipalities. This is linked to the form of financing: the money flows into the institutions.

The tradition and the form of financing differ in the neighboring countries. In Italy, daughters and sons are expected to look after their parents in old age. This leads to stress and conflict, especially in families with few offspring. Relatives are also more involved in Germany. You will be compensated for this work by the long-term care insurance. Outpatient care also has a higher priority.

In Switzerland, most people go to retirement homes shortly before death. The average length of stay is only two and a half years. The pandemic has now shortened this time in thousands of cases. Because social distancing is only possible to a limited extent in the condensed form of living.

Switzerland’s moderate route has an advantage and a disadvantage

François Höpflinger is an aging researcher and professor emeritus at the University of Zurich. He says: “The high death rate in Switzerland has in part to do with the fact that we are a society that has so far handled longevity very well.” Thanks to the health and care system, people with diabetes or very overweight can lead a good life into old age. This group is now particularly at risk from the virus.

Höpflinger says: “Switzerland’s moderate lockdown strategy has the disadvantage that it leads to many deaths among the older generation. On the other hand, it has the advantage that the younger generation is less affected by economic and psychological damage. “

Bruno Thalmann finds this weighing wrong. Despite everything, he sees something positive in his parents’ tragedy: “The fact that they took the express lift up together, so to speak, also has something reassuring.”

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