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Counting the years... making old age count

Posted May 26 2013 4:00am

Image: Banksy, found near Clerkenwell Road, London.
Status: Still running, now reads "Old Skool"

Welcome to my blog - an ad hoc gathering of thoughts, observations, articles and points of view about many issues relating to the elderly in general and their relationship with friends, family, carers - and society, in particular.

I am very involved with people with dementia and work in this zone as a dementia communications specialist. I also develop products and projects for older people with dementia and work with a range of organisations to deliver them.

Two decades as a volunteer and over a decade as a trustee of the charity Contact the Elderly have shown me that the oldest people in this country are almost entirely segregated from us, and this means that they are disconnected, dis-empowered, and in the context of our society, invisible and under-valued.

Many of the oldest old - nearly 2 per cent of our population, hardly leave their homes and live in a kind of social isolation that most younger people would find unthinkable, unimaginable and completely unacceptable.

Through no fault of their own, shut away by the infirmities of old age, they are excluded from taking an active role in the daily life of society. It is hardly an under-statement to say that they are timid and alone. The daily reality for many is to eke out an impoverished life on a paltry pension, with few pleasures, still "making do", as so many did during their formative years.

The facts speak for themselves. Experts predict a rise of more than 50 per cent in the number of older people who need help over the next two decades.

Previous Health Minister, Ivan Lewis claimed that social care - and how it is paid for, "is one of the great political challenges facing our society." At present, (2013) its services, such as helping people to get out of bed, washing, dressing and eating, either at home or in a care home, cost the country £17 billion. The money is distributed through local councils. However, increasingly, councils are refusing to pay for that care. In twenty years' time, given the country's escalating elderly population, including rising numbers living with dementia, the bill will soar to £24+ billion.

Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the King's Fund health think tank, says what many others are beginning to think - that the current long-term care system "is complex, unfair and unsustainable for the future" and that we have to change it. The gap between reality and expectation in social care is colossal.

The financial problem is vast, and will take many years to solve. But like many, I believe that social care should include much more than just the basics of life. We need to consider what we can do to give these people more to be alive for, so that their lives are better nourished emotionally and spiritually; so that they can 'live' their lives and enrich others, rather than just subsisting in isolation and frailty, with little to look forward to other than the grim reaper.

And as in most things we do as a society, the effects of social action can be felt all the way through it. Our disengagement with the old affects many other aspects of our lives and we are all the less for it.

Contact and connection between the generations is absolutely essential for a healthy society. Just as all children deserve good parenting, the oldest old deserve to have meaningful relationships with younger people. We need our old people just as much as they need us, even if our needs are different. Much research has shown the value to all concerned when older and younger people include one another in their lives.

This blog, is a muddle of my own thoughts and points of view and aggregates articles, research, attitudes and thinking about older people and dementia and hopefully contributes to the debate. After all, we are all getting older and many more of us are getting older than ever before.

I welcome your views, so please join in if you'd like to...


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