Crabbit Old Woman by @gbhaining

This poem was written by Phyllis Mabel McCormack 30/06/1913–10/01/1994. Originally entitled “Look Closer” she wrote it in the early 1960s for publication in the Sunnyside Chronicle, which was a magazine produced by the staff of Sunnyside Royal Hospital for circulation within the hospital. She submitted it anonymously as she felt it was critical of some of her colleagues. A copy of the magazine was loaned to a patient in a nearby hospital, Ashludie near Dundee. Before returning the magazine, the old lady copied the poem out in her own handwriting and kept this copy in her bedside cabinet. When she died and the staff cleared her belongings, it was found and, as it was in her handwriting, it was assumed that she was the author.

POEM  Please take a little time to read this, also the nurses response!

I first learned of this poem whilst undertaking my mental health nurse training in the late 1980s.

Gladys 1

This poem resonated with me, and, has stuck with me throughout my career. This led me towards “care of the elderly mentally ill nursing” as it was then called, and, ultimately to strive for the delivery of the best possible care for people with dementia, their families and carers.

Why Dementia?

Traditionally dementia has been the “business” of mental health services but if we consider the statement below, this confirms that wherever we work, whoever we are, at some point we are going to come in contact with a person who has dementia.

“Dementia is one of the foremost public health challenges worldwide. As a consequence of improved healthcare and better standards of living more people are living for longer. This means in Scotland that the number of people with dementia is expected to double between 2011 and 2031. This presents a number of challenges, most directly for the people who develop dementia and their families and carers, but also for the statutory and voluntary sector services that provide care and support. Over time we expect that a greater proportion of health and social care expenditure will focus on dementia, and there is evidence of that change already. There are no easy solutions and transformation will take time. This document sets out what we will do in the next three years.”  Scotland’s National Dementia Strategy 2013 – 2016

What was it like away back then?

Gladys 2 Crichton Hospital (William Burns 1834)

Well…. whilst I was training in the 1980s I had various placements with the Crichton Royal Hospital that had wards for people with dementia.

These were large institutional wards with nooks and crannies all over the place, they had nightingale dormitories and from an observational point of view were a challenge.

The wards included acute assessment and long stay and it was dependent on the stage of your illness where you were placed. There was little evidence (in my opinion) at this time of person centred care. People were well cared for but personal choices were limited.

We had charts for bathing, toileting, weighing, to name but a few.

We dished out meals of limited choice and drinks based on what we knew, however, I mostly prefer to drink coffee BUT do like to be given the option of having a cup of tea!

We had large sitting rooms where everyone was expected to congregate between getting up, mealtimes, toileting times, bath times and going to bed. The telly or some Scottish music was generally going on in the background.  

I want to stress that we didn’t think we delivering poor care, we weren’t. We were delivering the care that met the physical needs of people with dementia and had to do this because of the numbers of people we were caring for. 

So have things changed?


We no longer have large institutional wards for people with dementia. People with dementia are cared for within their local community. Gladys 3

We have memory clinics where people are assessed and diagnosed early. People with dementia are supported to take control of their care and treatment including planning for their future and determining their wishes.

We have commitment from the Scottish Government to ensure that all people including people with dementia receive excellent person centred health and social care.

We have national programmes to support this including:-

  • Scotland’s National Dementia Strategy            
  • Older People in Acute Hospitals
  • Dementia Standards
  • Promoting Excellence
  • People at the Centre of Health and Care

So……………….back to my point about dementia touching each and every-one of us.

Yes it will:  be it personally or professionally, be it in the work place or at home. We will all have to be prepared to care for people with dementia as our aging population grows and we all live longer.

My current role as Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Nurse Consultant is as a result of the commitment from Alzheimer Scotland, the Scottish Government and a fundraising appeal by Kay the Dowager Duchess of Hamilton.

Gladys 4 I am a small cog in a big wheel but I am working with my colleagues across the region and striving to make sure “we get it right for every person every time” and particularly if that person has dementia.

Gladys Haining is an Alzheimer Scotland Nurse Consultant working at the Mental Health, Learning Disability and Psychology Directorate of NHS Dumfries and Galloway.

Telephone 01387 244007 (internal: 36606)


Dementia helpline: 0808 808 300

3 thoughts on “Crabbit Old Woman by @gbhaining

  1. Pingback: Looking forward, facing up, going on | weeklyblogclub

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