WHY I SMILE AT CHILDREN or ageism is alive and well.

 

I am ‘gutted’ as my grandson would say. For the second time in a month I turn up at the Bank without the necessary documentation that I had prepared carefully on the kitchen table.

When I arrived back home I burst into tears. Not because of the event but because of the thought of what the bank manager and staff would think of me. I am used to these lapses and am learning how to minimising them. I remember how my now deceased friend panicked in these circumstances and on the whole I manage them with serenity. At nearly 82 I have been coping reasonably well with the decline of certain faculties. But a recent experience made me feel worthless.
At a conference coffee break, a recently retired academic knowing that I am a U3A (University of the Third Age)  member announced that she had joined the organisation. She proceeded to describe in the most vicious ageist terms the behaviour of the members of her group. I could not believe my ears when she ascribed mockingly to each one of them the most ageist, prejudiced characteristics that I have come across in my 20 years of being interested in the representation of old women.

It left me speechless trying to understand what was going on and the meaning of this diatribe.

The episode did make a mark on me. If an old woman academic could perceive us old women in this way, talk about us in this way what do other people think when they see my white hair, my sometimes unsteady gait, my forgetfulness?

Maybe that is why, in the tube, in the street I smile at little children who look at me with interest.

THE TERRIBLE 92 – part 2

Advice to myself and carers

There is no fooling ma tante Salma, her senses are all there: with her eagle eyes she will notice any minor change you dare make in her surrounding, any change of expression in your face. Her nose will smell the cucumber being cut in the room next door or the tiniest drop of sweat you may harbour. And I swear she must have a 7th sense that allows her to guess people’s thoughts and their next move within a centimetre of precision.
Her memory is all there and my ears are going to explode with tales of money, success, status, past splendour: les soirees, les brilliants et les toilettes (the evening parties, diamonds and chic clothes) often repeated again and again…
And now what? With all her money, she is pacing round and round in her room and in her head, worrying about the next pipi. Worrying about millions of minor problems, not being able to abdicate her authority on her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren…after all I have done for them
She lives in anticipation of what will happen in the next days with great anxiety.
Are these common features of old age? Or is it the result of living in exile? Past traumas not digested?

After my three weeks’ stint caring for Salma, I made myself some observations about old age .
It is very important to explain to anxious older people when and how things will happen, even if it is not what they want, rather than being vague and letting them build scenarios in their head
We must not think that age diminishes the intellect or the senses and we must treat old people as normal adults
Do not contradict old people, they usually know best but sometimes when they don’t, let it pass, or you may get a tantrum, it is not worth it
It is vital not to forget who the person is and recognise all what they have achieved in their life when they are still alive, not only at their funerals
Old people still need touch, kisses, love and little gifts of the things they like

Reminders for myself:
Do your pelvic floor exercise on the hour every hour
Notice any obsessions that may develop, acknowledge them and try to move on
Ask for help and accept help graciously, don’t forget to say thank you
Do not expect people to communicate with you if I you do not put your hearing aid
Make sure you have a non-judgmental friend or two to whom you can lash out all your woes without being contradicted
What money you have, USE IT! for your comfort and amusement, what are you waiting for?

Someone should devise a course on growing old that is not only about how to eat well, how to stay active and warm, but about the behaviours we can develop, how to deal with psychological changes. The usual response from the near and dear is : ah! she needs antidepressant”, donnez lui un calmant…

My Aunt Salma or The Terrible 92s

I was hoping that this blog would permit some of my friends to contribute to our experiences of ageing. Finally a friend (aged 66) who was asked to look after an aunt for a month’s holiday sent me the following:

My Aunt Salma
My aunt Salma left her home town of Aleppo aged 22 to marry an old millionaire from Cairo, they then settled in Milano. Now aged 92, and a widow for many moons, she has lost her past glory and beauty and is looking more and more like a bird of prey with a hooked nose, piercing cold eyes that notice everything and fingers that have morphed into bluish claws.

She rules the roost with an iron beak, maybe she always did? But now with her faculties in decline and being dependant on others for her basic needs, she has become a tyrant. Who will she pounce on next?

Are these genetic traits that I will inherit? Maybe I am already a tyrant and not aware of it!

Do we all grow old in a similar way? Do we share common characteristics? I wonder…:

The desperate need to be recognised for who we were and what we have achieved

The need for love given without asking

The need for touch and kisses

The frustration when things are not done the way we want them

The over active brain that cannot settle on the moment, because what is there anymore now? And it races 100 miles ahead, worrying and anticipating, rehashing bad deeds that people have done to us recently or in the past

The obsession with our bodies: where is it hurting today? how high is the blood pressure? Why am I peeing so much suddenly?

Lashing out at carers who are not following the proper routine on how to apply the Nivea cream, the order in which to put on garments

Lashing out at family members who do not care to phone or visit regularly or say thank you for all what we have done for them

Blaming everyone else for everything that goes wrong, it is never our fault

Refusing to acknowledge our limitations and making everyone’s life miserable because we won’t use a wheel chair or a stick or pay for a taxi when we can afford hundreds of them

And I want this and I don’t want that or is it the other way around?

This is all very tiring ….

Nothing really that a good dose of Arsenic 200c cannot solve

Active Ageing and Disability

I am angry, I am very angry.

‘Active Ageing’ is the buzz expression these days. Mention the magic words and short-term projects will be funded, academic research will be supported and women who want a contemplative and quiet life will feel guilty.

I believe that the expression was introduced by the WHO about people over 60 years of age and has been taken up by the EU and other organisations. What are the ageist assumptions that underpin the Active Ageing concept? I do not know about men, or other countries and I talk from an 80 years old Londoner’s point of view. I know that fit and healthy old women do not sit doing nothing all day. Some are still paid for their work, the majority work for no pay: they look after their grandchildren, they are carers for parents or partners, they volunteer for hundreds of charities, hospitals, hospices, schools, churches, synagogues, mosques, they take courses or lead courses. They write, they sing, they paint.
They tend their gardens and allotments and care for the environment and campaign for peace and justice. And some have earned the right to choose not to be ‘productive’. Fit and healthy women do not need help in being ‘active’. I sometimes think that they would benefit from help in slowing down.

In the field of education I am angry because Adult Education courses where old and young adults learned together have been severely curtailed for lack of funds and new courses are funded specially for the ‘old’ to be active – very often without provisions for the disabled old.

Quoted in Age-Friendly-London Report: “Older people are living with disabilities and longstanding illnesses for a greater proportion of their life, although this varies with social class, ethnicity, gender and location. At age 65 men are now expected to live with disability for 7.9 years, women 9.9 years (ONS 2014a).” I am angry because the Active Ageing campaign does not address this fact and seems to me to concentrate on the fit and healthy.

There are no courses on living with impaired hearing or vision. There are no courses in adapting to creeping disabilities. There are no courses in adapting to the changing relationship in couples when one becomes disabled. There are no courses on how to talk to your doctor and learn about the medication prescribed. I only know of one course on living with a chronic illness. And apart from the growth of independently organised Death Cafes I know of no courses about death.

Active Ageing? Yes, of course. Give the old the means and they will need no help to be active. State-of-the-art hearing aids for the hard of hearing that is one of the causes of isolation. Mobility scooters for all who want one. Local Community Centres with good transport and facilities for the disabled that will provide daily social contacts.

I am angry because the problem of isolation and mental deterioration is not solved by a befriender visiting once a week even if there are caring relatives who can visit sporadically Sheltered accommodation, care homes, nursing homes are of an appalling standard unless you are extremely rich.

Yes Active Ageing: Fund community hubs, adult education, local activities, adequate transport, meeting spaces, age-mixed housing areas with cultural activities. We are social animals and need daily human contact however superficial.

PROTECTING OUR PARENTS episode 2

Episode 2 of ‘Protecting our Parents’ was called ‘Who Decides’. Yet another distressing programme that asks the wrong question. In Kathleen’s own words : “the system is all wrong”. Kathleen is the strong-willed bed-bound 80 years old woman who is a problem for the NHS and Social Services . She wants to die at home and not a care home but needs 24hrs care.  She also says: ‘The carers do their best but they are not here when you need them…make me feel like I am a nuisance …if I need help I need help. The carers are all right but they have no time …They should be paid properly.  I do not think it is fair that have to pay for private care.” But the psychiatrist declares that  her decision-making is impaired.

How can such an absurd situation arise? Urgent hospital admissions followed by discharges to the same inadequate situation. Hundreds of calls to the emergency ambulance, just to lift distressed Katherine up the bed. Official guidelines and personal wishes set in stone. Teams of well-meaning people and experts with their hands tied because of financial constraints and the conflicting interests of the diverse agencies involved.   The pretence that the whole problem is not a question of money.

Where was the son in this situation? Was nobody capable of thinking outside the box and find a solution for this woman to be comfortable in bed and prevent her from phoning emergency services costing over £57000 over a few months? A technical solution that would prevent her from sliding down the bed ? But do these hundred of calls to the emergency services express a deep sense of insecurity since the husband cannot lift her up the bed anymore?  what does this insistence of staying home with no quality of life and at all costs mean? The terror of the thought of the care home?   Did this isolated, symbiotic couple see other people apart from the rushed carers? Was there no other way to finance the extra help that Kathleen needed?

On a positive note and in the absence of family members,  it was good to see that the community social worker did work as an advocate for the couple against the medical experts’ assessment of Kathleen as being incapable of making decisions.

 

The Silvering Screen and anger (part 2)

From the number of visitors of my blog on the experiences  of ageing and ageism of an old woman,  I must conclude that there are few researchers interested in the subject. I had given up writing but I am angry again.

First of all I need to say why my serious reading is confined to my holidays. Reading  has become very laborious for me these days. The problem has not been diagnosed yet but I do feel deprived when I need enormous concentration to read at all. Spare time during holidays make possible sustained effort.

I am angry. For me films and the consciousness of being an old woman are inextricably linked just like my feminist consciousness was raised by the sexism of Hollywood films.

I am angry. This time it is Sally Chivers’ analyses of certain films in The Silvering Screen that make my blood boil.   How come her colleagues have not  scrutinised them?    Have any of her reviewers seen the films that Chivers quote? As I wrote on my film blog (www.oldwomaninfeaturefilms.wordpress.com ), two (at least) old characters, Indir (Pather Panchali) and Alvin (The Straight Story) are misrepresented. The first is perceived as ‘burden’ and the second as  ‘incapable’ when there is no evidence of this on-screen. I can only assume that Chivers projects onto these films her own ageism. Chivers in both cases ascribes to viewers and characters in the films her own views of old age. It is claimed on the cover of the book that it contains close readings  of films. I am sorry but I do not consider Chivers’  text on The Straight Story   the product of a close reading. At no time, visually or in the dialogue is Alvin considered as being senile and Indir’s body is not left to rot on a public road. 

Back to normal life with its chores I have no time to continue reading and verify my suspicions about  Chivers’ film  illiteracy.  Demonstrable or not her propositions on Hollywood and the representation of old age, disability and death, should no rest on biased data.

I am angry because I feel that I should not be  critical of a ‘Professor’. I feel that if I do I will not be taken seriously because of my status  – non  academic – and my age -77. I feel that I should be more diplomatic. What the hell. Nobody reads my blog anyway.

I wish without much hope that this post would elicit some response.

Crisis in Care

am I politically naive?

From http://www.carehome.co.uk/news/article.cfm/id/1556523/over-a-thousand-older-and-disabled-people-lobby-parliament-on-social-care-reform

Over a thousand older and disabled people have turned up to a mass lobby of parliament.The rally has been organised by the Care and Support Alliance which represents over 60 charities and organisations. Older and disabled people have travelled from all over the country to attend the event.The campaigners have arranged meeting with over two thirds of English MPs, while hundreds more people are targeting their MP online using facebook and twitter in the world’s first interactive ‘twobby’.  Simon Gillespie, chair of the Carer and Support Alliance and chief executive of the MS Society said: ‘Social care is not a nice to have extra – without support many people are condemned to a mere existence.’  ‘People are living longer with illness and disability and the chronically under-funded system is in crisis.Yet social care budgets across England fell by an estimated £1bn last year, according to the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services.’   http://www.carehome.co.uk/news

This is the opportunity of a generation for government to improve the lives of millions of people, and help ease the strain on the already financially stretched NHS.’ The Government is currently preparing a white paper on social care which will be published later in spring, alongside a progress report on how to reform the way that care is funded. The Care and Support Alliance hopes the mass rally of parliament today will show the strength of public opinion and will be a key element in influencing the Government’s policy on social care.

None of my ‘young old’ friends are available to come with me. They are all very busy in a variety of activities and did not know about the event. My old old friends do not know about the event.  I arrive at Westminster Station and notice groups of white-haired people, some sitting,  waiting on the only bench available in the huge station.  About half a dozen blind people with canes or helpers seem to be waiting too.

At the Cromwell Green entrance  of the House of Commons a few people are milling about. There are no crowds of support, no trade unions banners, no anti-war or left-wing placards on the green opposite.  I am directed to Church House because it is too early for the lobby. On the way I come across a friend in a wheelchair going to see her MP. She is surprised to see me there given that I am not a carer or in need of care. Church House is heaving with hundreds of people, registering and queuing for a cup of tea. The different disabled charities desks line the walls. There is a stand where you can share your experience of care and one where you can put a question to the minister or MP. All the people there seem to belong to one of The Care and Support Alliance groups.  The invisible people: the disabled and their carers.  I see somebody I know. I go to talk to her, she also is surprised that I should be there. She belongs to a local group fighting the destruction of Disabled Support Services.

Isn’t the crisis in care a political issue? Haven’t the many reports of abuse of the vulnerable  in care homes, hospitals and even private homes made any impression on the general public? the politically engaged? Isn’t the issue of national importance?  Should everybody ignore the Human Rights Abuses as reported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission? http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/nov/

There was only one celebrity -Tony Robinson- to attract the attention of the press. But this did not impress them it seems. The mass lobby was not reported – unless all the people I know have also  missed the general news or the London news.

A friend of mine who is a social worker said to me “I really do not like the way the old people are referred to. It is always ‘They’ never ‘We’.

Yes I am naive but very angry.