Live isolated in own home – this is what people say they want

Is it coincidence or what happened to a friend and a relative of mine more common than the general population imagines?

The two women, very different in all ways, over 80 both of them thought of themselves as coping living on their own. O loved her comfortable flat. Very independent she belonged to a few social groups, had many friends and family and at no time considered changing the situation. M on the other hand lives in badly managed sheltered accommodation after many moves, has no friends and only an elderly relative  as social contact.

O was found by a neighbour, unconscious. Nobody knew got to know how long she had been lying on her bed unable to contact anybody.  After a few weeks in hospital, she died. M was also found  nearly  unconscious and bruised on the floor where she had been lying for two days and nights.  The ambulance took over an hour to arrive and she was admitted to hospital. After 10 days as an inpatient she was declared medically fit and discharged with the promise of home care help as soon as she arrived home. She was still very confused, weak and unable to function. The relative was not informed of the situation, and not given any contact numbers.  The carers did not arrive that day, evening, or the next day. It transpired that she was discharged before a care plan was put in place by the council.

I am writing this because I felt strongly that the general policy of keeping old people in their own home as long as possible ,’that is what they wish’, may in the long run be more destructive and costly that establishing good care homes. I have written about this in previous posts (search in this blog ‘Enrich your future, and  Protecting our parents) . Our culture is an individualistic one. The isolation figures are worrying and lead to the above incidents. Yet excellent care homes cater for rich people. We need to think outside the box, read Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, investigate OWCH. Ageing is a feminist issue and there is hope that the revival of feminist groups (london 70s sisters)   will yield similar projects.


Do old women need role models?

The end of the year and into my 81st year. Time to take stock and reflect. There has been so much change around ageing issues since I started being interested in the representation of old women 20 years ago. At the time, 60+ was the age when women were considered old and the few academic papers published took this as the bench mark. I had to search hard to access information about ageing and attended seminars and conferences planned for social workers. I joined the Older Feminist Network, a campaigning organisation at the time, and Growing Old Disgracefully network. I started, with the support of the local authority, the U3A in the borough of Brent.

Now Ageing is being studied in all its aspects by Academia. There are dozens if not 100s of sites about ageing: from the International Longevity Centre to blogs written by individuals (I will include my own )

Today I would like to reflect on three items in the news.

From ageuk website:  Each winter, 1 older person dies needlessly every 7 minutes from the cold – that’s 200 deaths a day that could be prevented… Age UK estimates that 1.7 million older people in the UK can’t afford to heat their homes, and over a third (36%) of older people in the UK say they live mainly in one room to save money.

From the Guardian Comment is free 26th November 2014:   On Tuesday he (the Pope) addressed the European parliament in Strasbourg. Speaking of the need for Europe to be invigorated, he described the continent as a “grandmother, no longer fertile and vibrant”, and went on to say it risked “slowly losing its own soul”…

The Independent Dec 2nd: Mary  Beard calls for a grey revolution: ‘Let’s reclaim the word old’. Speaking at Cheltenham Literary Festival, the classicist said reaching old age should be a source of pride and suggested Agatha Christie’s character Miss Marple as role model.

To me these three news items encapsulate what I find disturbing in the climate of denial that surrounds old age. The age uk information about the plight of old people who have no other voice is reported in the press on one day and disappears from view the next. As with the abuse in care homes, the extreme isolation of some old people that leads to mental decline, the social problems of old people do not feature in high visibility campaigns.  As mentioned in my previous blog, and argued by Jay Ginn, old frail people have no public voice. We do not want to know about the end game (Prof. Kirkwood’s term for the end of life). Old frail, disabled old people, are ‘other’.  We prefer to identify with the ‘still doing it’ campaigns: the positive living, growing old healthy, independent age, age and   culture, growing bolder and the myriad of other sites. But as shown by the 77 years old Pope sexism sticks closely to ageism. Ageing is a feminist issue but  in the feminist communities old women are hardly visible. The OFN (Older Feminist Network) and the OLN (Older Lesbian Network) have now been joined by another network (7 sisters network). They are networks of friends who get together for sharing experiences, hidden from view. I am not aware of any old  women groups who are campaigning for the rights of  the frail, abused and lonely. The only two workshops about ageism at the Feminism In London Conference did not consider the Crisis in Care.

This leads me to Mary Beard’s proposing Miss Marple as a role model.  Do  we old women need ‘role models’? I do not think so. What we need is high-profile people who would advertise the contribution that we make to society. Our diverse roles: volunteers in the Health Service and hospices, philosophers, music teachers, workers, painters and singers, peace campaigners, grandmothers, great grandmothers and many more .  At any meetings, demonstrations against war, against violence, against the savage cuts we are there white hair and all. We  are often the foundations of community groups, religious associations. The research produced  about our ageing society by the universities is often inaccessible and does not permeate the general public’s consciousness.  What we need is for feminist writers to explore and close the gap between the  60+ healthy old and the old who face the end game.  What we need is for the young old to fight for the old who are unable to make themselves heard. For the old who die alone because of the cold weather. What we need is creative thinking and a way to combat the false choice given to old people in need of care. The false choice between living alone at home or being neglected and abused in care homes.






London Feminist Conference 2014

In spite of a very busy time I felt I  had to attend the Feminism in London conference. I managed it, arriving late and leaving early but the few hours spent in the exhilarating atmosphere made it worthwhile. To be in a crowd with so many women – specially the young ones  revived my feminist identity and commitment. I appreciated meeting old friends from past campaigns and the art stimulated my imagination.

However I felt a bit sad. In the multitude of stalls, old women were not represented. There were no workshops on the crisis in care or the plight of caseworkers, on ageing, ageism, on the relationship between disability and ageing. I do think that ageing is a feminist issue. To date, while academia and even the media are shining their spotlight on age, there is no public old feminist voice. But academic papers on the culture of old age does not seem to permeate the general consciousness and the media’s misrepresentation of old women in images and language attract no interest.  It is not that there was a lack of old activists at this conference.  Splashes of white hair were seen from the back of the lecture hall and among the workshop facilitators. Individuals were present but not the groups. What I mean is old women’s activism was invisible.

The OFN Older Feminist Network, the oldest group (1982) of old women to get together as feminist old women were not there. OWCH the Older Women Cohousing  group were not there.These women challenge the false choice between the isolation of growing old in one’s own home and the anonymous uninspiring retirement home. The new 70s sisters network were not there.  Only G.O.D. Growing Old Disgracefully advertised their existence with their banner on the wall of the stairwell.

I appreciated enormously Gail Dines plenary speech. In her words  ‘Feminism is not for each individual, it only works as a collective movement. We’re all in this together’.




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.


Crisis in Care

am I politically naive?


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.’

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?

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.