Yesterday was the International Day of Older Persons and so it was a day to celebrate the elderly people in our lives. It is well documented that in the East, cultures have much more respect for their elderly and they take better care of their elderly relatives than we do in the UK. Sadly in the UK, many older people are isolated, lonely and struggle with their mobility. Residential care is under pressure due to the increasing demand, yet employees who work in the care sector are not recognised for the important work that they do in looking after our elderly family members.
I love the development that is happening across some nurseries and schools, whereby young children are visiting care homes to mingle with the elderly. The youngsters are bringing energy, noise and enthusiasm to the lives of the older people, while they have time and patience to connect with the children, reading to them and playing with them. It seems like a great initiative to me and I can only see benefits for both age groups and it must make the elderly feel more connected to the rest of society.Even when Dad was suffering with dementia, his face would light up when he saw a baby or toddler, and he would try to engage. In fact he probably became more keen on children than when he was well.
When I was at school I volunteered for Community Service , as a means of avoiding PE in the first instance. My best friend and I were allocated to an elderly lady called Mrs Fiddler who had requested some help taming her over-grown garden. So we began hacking away at the weeds and long grass, and gradually over time she grew to trust us. We would go every week and eventually we were invited indoors, where we would play cards with her. She moved to a retirement flat when I was studying my A levels and I continued to visit her, just for chats and to do odd jobs. She did not really need gardening, she was clearly very lonely, and I like to look back and think that it was a good experience for us both. Sadly Mrs Fiddler died when I was away at University, but Mum attended her funeral on my behalf.
As people are now living longer than they used to, there are going to be more elderly people around in the future and so we need to learn how to include and respect them better than we do currently. If care or residential homes are going to be full in the future, then we need to make them better places to live. My Mum cared for Dad at home, in the end with the help of carers, as she was adamant that he would get better care that way. She was certainly right but only because she took such good care of him, and not all spouses are as fit and strong as Mum was in her 70’s so they may not be able to make the same choice. They should not be hostels of old people, but they should be integrated into the wider community, with visits from schools and other organisations. It seems to me that isolation is a real issue for the elderly and it is something that is within our power to change.
Getting older and more infirm is something that I do think about in my capacity as Joshua’s carer, especially around our birthdays. I cannot imagine yet what might happen when we are too old or weak to meet Joshua’s care needs any more. Then of course I start to ponder a time when we are no longer around to protect and care for the middle aged Joshua, and where he might end his days. It is at that point that it all becomes too difficult to contemplate and so my mind switches back to the cheerier image of toddlers bringing joy to care homes……