Anita Elisabeth (23) from Asker:
Dumped in a nursing home
What was the municipality thinking when they put 19-year-old Anita Elisabeth Bjørklund in a nursing home against her will? ‘It was like living in a kindergarten for adults. The place stank of excrement. People with dementia were screaming and yelling, and old men were walking around without trousers on. I thought I was going to go insane,’ says Anita Elisabeth.
For six months and two days, she was forced to stay at the nursing home Bråset bo-og omsorgssenter in Røyken municipality. Asker municipality, where she is from, had nothing else to offer Anita Elisabeth, who depends on practical and personal assistance for most things. It wasn’t until she started blogging about her disturbing experience and the media caught on that things started to happen.
“Suddenly my blog had 100,000 readers. I think the municipality panicked and didn’t want to draw any more attention to my enforced placement,” says Anita Elisabeth.
She was moved to the private institution Høyenhall Helse og Rehabilitering AS in Hole municipality, where she has now been living for two years. And she is making great progress.
Anita’s case is not a precedent
Anita Elisabeth Bjørklund is not the only one who has been forced to stay in a nursing home intended for the elderly. Anita’s neighbour in the next room, a young girl from Oslo, was also almost placed in a nursing home. The girl’s family protested and they were eventually heard.
Many young disabled people are living in nursing homes all over Norway, and there are many cases we never hear about. According to the Norwegian Directorate of Health, as many as 137 people between the ages 18 and 49 were living in nursing homes in 2009. In 2014, the number had increased to 145. The Directorate of Health does not wish to disclose how many of these people are around 20 years of age. It does however state that 26 people (18–49 years old) were living in Norwegian nursing homes against their will in 2013. Or, as the Directorate of Health describes them: Twenty-six long-term residents who wish to move.
Anita Elisabeth was born in Harstad, but her family moved to Bærum when she was four years old. Amazingly, she has kept her beautiful dialect. “I am proud to be from Northern Norway,” she says.
When she was 13 years old, she started to notice changes in her body. Walking uphill became difficult. She got headaches and suffered from a stiff neck. She started falling down frequently as if her whole body had suddenly stopped functioning. She was in a wheelchair at the age of 16, and has yet to be diagnosed. The doctors believe she has an unspecified muscle disorder or muscle syndrome. She is still dependent on full-time assistance with all everyday tasks, but staying and training at Høyenhall outside Hønefoss is making her stronger every day.
When she was living at the nursing home in Røyken, she couldn’t use her fingers or lift her arms. Now she’s lifting 40-kilo weights, and she can move her legs a little.
Death’s waiting room
Her experience at Høyenhall is in sharp contrast to the nursing home in Røyken, which she describes like being in death’s antechamber.
‘The first thing I saw was the staff wheeling out a dead person covered by a sheet. The residents with dementia upstairs screamed and yelled through the night. I felt like I was going mad, I wanted to scream along with them. When I got better, I was able to do some exercises, but nothing compared with what I do now.”
“In the nursing home’s living room old people sat around staring into space. They said I could take part in the religious service at the home. Sometimes the local community association came round to sell cakes,” says Anita Elisabeth.
When she was brought to the nursing home, the ambulance crew were surprised to hear where she was going. She was welcomed by an auxiliary nurse who was around the same age as her and who also didn’t understand why Anita Elisabeth was there. The people at the home thought someone had misread her birth certificate. Anita was born in 1992, whereas a typical resident at the nursing home was born in 1929. But the admission papers were correct.
The big dream
‘How long can you stay here at Høyenhall?’
‘I don’t know, but I want to stay as long as possible. I am prepared to stay for another two years, and exercise regularly to become stronger.’
‘What is your dream?’
‘I want my own flat. I hope to get user-controlled personal assistance and assistants who can live with me around the clock. Then I can live freely and independently.
‘I am certainly not going back to that “kindergarten” for old people,’ says Anita Elisabeth firmly.
Photos: Anita Elisabeth