I am overwhelmed by a mass of information. I am drowning in facts and figures and I am conferenced out. On October 1st it was the International Day of Older Persons, 2012 is the European Year of Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations.
As the manager of the Older Feminist Network website I try to keep up to date on ageing issues and attended two conferences on Ageing this past week.
On October 1st, Harrow ageUK held a conference about dementia ‘Breaking Down Barriers’. I learnt a lot about Dementias from the clinical point of view. Figures about its prevalence, proportion of diagnosed against non diagnosed (32% in Harrow)), the cost of care 20 billions and only 50 millions spent on research. One figure stuck in my mind 1 in 3 people die with some sort of dementia. What I learnt also was that there is an appalling lack of decent NHS and Social Services to deal with this condition. I learnt that if all people with dementia were identified their basic needs could not be financed by the NHS. We were given information about Harrow but I suspect that the situation is more or less the same in other boroughs.
It was pointed to us that the officials on the panel did not make policies but had to do their best with the available cash. So the contributions about the long waiting lists for what is called the Memory Clinic and the tests necessary for diagnosis, the lack of support for carers and the general dismal state of care in the community went unheard by anybody in power. The people attending were mainly carers, and representatives of people involved with dementia.
On October 2nd I attended an altogether different event about ageing. Age UK hosted a World Café event in celebration of the European Year of Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations. This project is supported by the Citizens for Europe Program of the European Union and called ‘Changing the Way Ageing is Perceived’. A string quartet welcomed us in the meeting room of the Royal Festival Hall. We were provided with generous refreshments and lunch. 100 delegates: 80 from the UK and 20 from other European countries. The World Café – this pretentious name – takes the form of a giant workshop. Discussions in small groups of people who do not know each other and who come from different geographical locations. I could go on about the interesting aspects of this gathering: meeting new old people, the possibility of making new links, the food, the view, witnessing old people, mainly women, in action etc… but frankly this whole effort was to my mind a waste of time and resources. At a meeting about the perception of old people the words ageist and culture were not mentioned once. And once more the people who should be held to account were not there : the power wielding representatives of the media and the government.
Active Ageing? yes all people present at this ‘world cafe” are very active in their own community. I think that the old if they are fit and healthy are all active in some way. Some have hardly time to look after themselves. The voluntary sectors involved in the community, from managers to hand-ons workers are in the majority made up of old people. Solidarity between the generations? Of course we are all for it. But in this climate of austerity and cuts, libraries, day centres, communities events are culled. Youth unemployment is rising and disabled people are being hounded. The gulf between 3rd. Age and 4th Age is deepening.
The contrast and similarities between these two meetings was striking and unsettling. In both meetings the voluntary sector was prominent: Alzheimer’s Society, Dementia Uk, Admiral Nurses, in the first. In the second volunteers community workers most of them retired . But where were the politicians, the press ? Lots of information but no way to voice our expectations and demands for a more equal and inclusive society.