For the past three months I’ve been working as a carer. It’s been an eye-opener for someone who has never had a lot of close contact with the elderly. I’ve worked with children for the last four years and I am used to their exuberance, naivete and fresh honesty. I love to watch them grow and learn and be a part of that progress. Coming to the other end of the life cycle is fascinating. These are people who have lived through events and eras I’ve only read about in books or seen in films. I’ve heard stories about the Clydebank blitz, about curling your hair with rags and meeting husbands at the dance hall. This isn’t just about “vintage”, a word that is so chic and trendy right now that girls are raiding their grannies’ wardrobes and buying second hand clothes that stores have bought, cleaned, and marked up from the local charity shops. It’s about living. And more than that, coming to the end of that cycle.
I like the idea of being living in their own homes rather than in a hospital or a care home. It gives them the sense of independence, of familiarity and control over their own lives which quite frankly, they are entitled too given how hard and long they’ve worked. Yet the reality of it is often awkward. From people who aren’t safe to live at home in all honesty to those who are self-confessed “waiting to die”, it makes you wonder, what’s life all about? We all look forward to that day we don’t have to work, and yet when the time comes many people find themselves at a loss. Sometimes they don’t know how to relax, and at other times they simply cannot do the activities that give them enjoyment any longer (from reading books to physical activity, it’s all much harder for the 80 plus age group).
As a carer we encourage people to get up out of bed, to eat healthily and so forth, yet as one client pointed out, why? Why shouldn’t they be allowed to overindulge in sugary goods, to stay in their PJs all day and generally be self-indulgent? I mean it’s certainly not going to get any better for them… It makes the argument for euthanasia all the more understandable.
But as the media like to tell us, our population is living longer. In a generation or two, living to 100 will not be unusual. Surely we can give something to the 80-100 age bracket: more community centres, coffee mornings, targeted elderly counselling. Something as easy as a simplified remote control for their TVs instead of battling with the tiny buttons and the two/three/four remote that come with TVs/ digital/ sky boxes these days. I think we, as a society, have to go back to a time where it was normal to knock on a neighbour’s door and stop in for a chat. I’m not saying every day, but 10 mins, once a week, a month even, makes so much difference to the tedious loneliness that the elderly often face when their families live far away.
It makes me wonder about growing old and feeling like a burden to society. I wouldn’t want that nor do I want others to feel that way. And yet what is the counter to this “waiting to die” pessimism? Plan for the future? I really can’t think of a good response.