I can remember when I first witnessed ‘old age’; it’s not up there with my other ‘firsts’ including first kiss (that was pretty disgusting & put me off the whole thing for a long time) or first time on a plane, but it is memorable nonetheless.
I was living in Nottingham at the time and to be honest, there weren’t many old people around then; it was the mid 1970’s.
You never saw them proffering their ‘senior citizen’ bus pass as they clambered on the Number 14 or large numbers of them flocking to the ‘pensioner specials’ that so many cafés and other restaurants now run on regular occasions. There wasn’t even a queue of withered hand-knitted-cardigan wearing geriatrics congregating in my local Post Office once a week collecting their pension (this was before the PO & banks put in those animal runs to control the roaming customers).
Maybe there was the old age equivalent of the toddler stair gate that kept them inside or perhaps they were being tended by their family or perhaps it was quite simply that there weren’t many old people actually alive.
According to government statistics the UK population declined between 1974-78, mostly due to the fact that the birth rate went down but also because people were dying at a younger age. In 1984 there were around 660,000 people aged 85+ that doubled in size to 1.4 million by 2009. This figure is likely to increase to 3.5 million by 2034.
So it would seem there really were fewer elderly and those that were around benefited from Clement Atlee’s Labour Government bold vision of caring for the population ‘from the cradle to the grave’, and were lodged in the new state run nursing homes that were becoming a more familiar establishment when elderly parents were put out to pasture.
Which brings me back to my late 1970’s memory of visiting the local Cheshire Home in Julian Road, West Bridgford in Nottingham.
I recall it was a plain square building, not unlike an open prison design, with ground level accommodation and lounge area. The room we went into was again a plain square room and around the edge, along each of the four walls were those high backed chairs that even then were the furniture mainstay of old age. In each chair, with vacant eyes and little to do other than sit and wait, sat the local elderly population. I say ‘elderly’ but looking back I suspect few of them were over 75 years old.
But that image of God’s waiting room has stayed with me eversince.
But, and here’s the big ‘but’ notwithstanding the huge improvements that have been made in care homes since then, due to improved living standard and huge advances in medical science, the average age that a person goes into a home is now much higher.
That has to be a positive outcome and it is but (yes, another one!) the problem we now face is the number of elderly who continue to live in their own homes, very often on their own. This can lead to excessive loneliness that has been shown to damage mental well being.
Families move or have their own life commitments, people are having to work longer hours and retire later in life, so whereas once there was a close family unit, now it is fragmented at best, very often leaving an elderly parent alone and lonely.
It was this continuing state of affairs, along with the devastating experience I went through with my own father who suffered from dementia, that made me set up ‘Creative Conversation & Companionship’ http://goo.gl/qQs3TF
I feel sure there are many hundreds of elderly people who do not want to burden their families with their woes or perhaps there are ‘children’ who recognise their parents need some extra company occasionally but who also are unable to see aged parents as often as they would like.
So my new one-to-one service, that has only just been launched, I hope will solve the problem of loneliness amongst the elderly, because there is no doubt loneliness is a factor in deteriorating mental health.
It’s a whole new world we now have and the aged population is going to continue growing in number, so now is the time to be pro-active rather than wait until it is too late and end up being re-active.