I had a career once; a bit eclectic; a mix of the practical – nursing – and the dreamy thinker who nevertheless had to earn a wage; research, development of services, evaluation etc. etc. At one interview for a job in the NHS (now abolished of course, the job not the NHS although…. no that would be a different and longer piece of writing) a very non-PC pin-striped top manager looked at my CV and said, I’m not sure where you’re going with this. Apart from the sheer brass nerve of that question, I admit, the eclecticism didn’t get me a good pension, but what it did do was bring me into contact with older people. I washed, dressed and nursed them, listened to them, worked to develop services for them, designed research frameworks for and about them. And I ended up as a freelance consultant, and my expertise was older people and their carers.
And I used to think to myself that when I’m older will I be satisfied with the way society treats the very old? We post war baby-boomers, we will be more demanding than the pre-war generation. And things will be different, won’t they? We will not accept ageism. We will not tolerate poor care in a nursing home, hospital, or our own home. Above all, we won’t be so grateful.
But will we be that different? We all want to age, I think the word is, actively, but what happens when all that activity, all that active ageing comes to an end and we become truly old and truly frail?
A recent Observer article declared that, as Britain is an ageing country what about catering for older people’s needs?
And indeed we warrant that attention as the over 65s here in the UK spend £2.2billion a week on goods and services. There are around 14.7 million of us over 65s in the UK – that’s 23% of the population. That’s huge numbers of us, and huge spending power, but are our needs being catered for? Well, according to this article, research tells us that yes society is under-prepared for this huge ageing population but we, the ageing over 60s, also don’t like looking too far into the future either.
OK, perhaps what the over 60s might find hard to do is to look at the point beyond active ageing when we lose the ability to function: to cook, clean, shop, wash, dress. Yes, that is challenging – can you do it, you very young journalist, researcher and policy wonk?
I look back at my younger ‘working with and for older people’ self and feel slightly ashamed, because I was like an anthropologist looking at a tribe that was ever so interesting, but not really what one aspired to. And while the correct words were to include and work with the researched – were you, really? Nope, because the research, the evaluation is always commissioned from above. What I’d like to see is more research and policy coming from the older population, and while we do have our excellent older people’s organisations that work both nationally and locally, with and for older people, I do mean, and let’s be radical here, I want the voice of the really old framing and designing the research, and writing the reports. I read various research reports on ageing and attend the occasional conference and the negativity that surrounds the very old – it really does seem all doom and gloom: dismal nursing homes, 15 minute slots for care, Alzheimer’s………
But the article also notes that as we age we become more and more diverse. And boy does that lift me. What that says to me is you cannot lump us all together into one homogenous group and say this will happen to you as you age. For instance, one in six people over 80 have dementia – OK that means five out of six do not – cup half full here, I think.
And because I wouldn’t dream of dictating how you age (!) here are my pointers to alleviating my own ageing.
- Being able to order shopping online. One of the major problems that we encountered when looking after our older folks (that’s my mum, my husband’s aunt and then a very ancient uncle) was who would do their food shopping when they were no longer able to go out? That was the catalyst for carers to come in for the aunt, and for my mum and the ancient uncle to go into care.
- Going on Facebook and using Twitter every day. I have daily conversations with people in the States, France, London, Bournemouth (!) and read and send tweets whenever. I’ve made good friends through Twitter. Now could this media alleviate some of the loneliness of old age? It might. And before anyone says I’m trivialising the experience of losing a partner or becoming housebound through frailty, social media could never replace a person or the immediacy of going out and about. But there is something about the active engagement with ideas, people, news, the arts, books, music, popular culture that social media provides that could continue when you are unable to get out into the outside world.
- Rooting myself into my community. It’s a bit run-down my town but I love it. And I know where I’m going to eat my meals when I want a break from cooking – our community centre has a great café and loads going on all just up the road from me.
- Loving your family and friends. I put them together because not everyone has a family. Every year I get one of those ghastly Christmas round robins from people who should know better (haven’t seen them in decades not years). And they have The Most Enormous family. Both me and Mr Frugalfashionshopper are orphans – no parents, no siblings. And for reasons I won’t go into, one Christmas our kids couldn’t come over for Christmas Day. I bloody cried when I got that round robin. I digress but I did go to friends before our solitary lunch. Be grateful, yes I am using that word, and love family and friends.
- Living in the moment and having fun – whatever that is for you.
That’s all for now, but do let me know your thoughts on ageing.
Penny, The frugal fashion shopper