Thoughts on “Protecting Our Parents”

I may be unusual in not treasuring my possessions above social contacts. I have not read comments on the programme Protecting Our Parents broadcast on Thursday 17 April 2014 on BBC TWO, but it made me livid.

We were presented with three people at the end of their lives. They were in favourable circumstances with caring relatives, competent medical and social carers.  And yet what I witnessed on the TV screen is, near enough, torture. Yes, I feel that discharging from hospital vulnerable, dependent old people to their own home with no constant social contact is inhuman. The rationale for this is that this is the patient’s or relative’s choice and that staying in one’s own home is the most desirable option when people become vulnerable and at risk. This choice is a false choice. Attitudes are formed long before extreme disability has isolated the old person and in the grip of extreme fear of the care home.

If it was possible to establish excellent care homes where people can have human contact as much as they desire, where they are looked after by trained, well paid, unstressed staff, only then would the choice be a free one. This was so well demonstrated in the programme. The most independent and articulate old woman, Betty, who was so determined to keep her home and go back to it, soon forgot about it once she spent two months in a decent care home. She blossomed there.

Margaret Thatcher ends her life in the luxury of the Ritz hotel, ordinary people who cannot afford the price of good care homes are sent home to fall and break bones in solitary confinement.

 “There are worse things than care homes” Prof. Kirkwood


Let Us Talk About Mental Health

I attended a focus group yesterday ‘Let us talk about Mental Health’. It was organised by Age Uk and the GLF ( Greater London Forum for Old People)   for a programme of  the National Development Team for Inclusion. The three-year programme ‘Leaders for Change in Mental Health’  aims are:

– Build the confidence, skills and capacity of older people who use mental health services. – To lead and influence change in their own lives and in wider service developments.         – Increase the voice, visibility and influence of older people with mental health problems.    – Develop and test innovative ways of promoting and enhancing mental health and wellbeing  later life in the two participating areas.                                                                                     – Increase  awareness, understanding and  education about mental ill-health in later life. A key element of the work will be to tackle the stigma, fear, and isolation that many older people with mental health problems experience.

The morning was very instructive. The first point that was interesting was that the facilitator had to stress a few times that this session was NOT about Alzheimer’s. This immediately made me conscious of my own bias of equating mental illness in the old with dementia.

We were then given facts and figures about the degree of discrimination against the old in the field of Mental Health. It is staggering. In the field of depression  for example 1 in 4 people live with depression, only 25% are diagnosed and less than 2% are referred to primary care psychological therapy. This is only one example, figures about other mental illnesses are as devastating.

We then discussed what needs to change to remedy this state of serious discrimination.

The NDTI (National Development Team for Inclusion) three years programme of training older people to  ‘ Increase awareness and understanding , agree local priorities for change, including tackling stigma, negative attitudes and stereotypes about age and mental illness and influence local service development and delivery’ is commendable. It is all too rare to empower old people to have a voice and fight for their rights.

During our discussions however at our table, isolation, and the lack of resources at the first point of access, the GP, were the main issues to be considered. We live in a climate of drastic services cuts. Day centres, libraries, community services are being dismantled and the GP consultation is limited to 10 mins and one issue. Hardly conditions that facilitate the observation of people who need psychological support and help. There is  a crisis in social care, care workers are badly paid and sometimes badly trained. No amount of consciousness raising on its own would help changing the situation of mental health neglect but  also diverting major resources into community projects might.


I shall be a spoil sport.  The women I talked to at the Tate, a lot of the tweets, declare that it was a wonderful event. Well I think it was a disappointing mess of an event. Although wonderfully organised it did not to my mind achieve anything either at the workshop (see previous post on this blog but specially the comments)  or on the day.

I have been an old woman activist against ageism  for the last 18 years. What I have experienced is that ageism permeates our language, culture  and our consciousness.

Let us start with the title of Lacy’s project. If you Google ‘silver action’ you get a Turkish football site. Why did Lacy change her original title from ‘grey hair action’?  Also the word ageism  did not feature in this event.

As I detailed in my previous post on this blog the workshop I attended was not conducive to talk about our present. In real life old women are invisible. More than their physical presence, it is what they do with their time, working or after retiring and/or raising a family that is absent from public life. It is their experience of advancing age with all its liberation and difficulties that are not talked about.  It was symbolic that the timeline  on the wall extended from 1945 to 2000. There was not enough room for the 27 women present to post  their activities after 2000. The age range being 60+ it would have been extremely interesting.

On the day of the event the intimate encounter of 4 women was of course interesting as women encounters always are.  We could have talked for much longer but the time available was very limiting. Also we were unaware of the space around us and the different activities that were happening. Did I feel manipulated? Not really but I felt that this part of the event was redundant for me. I belong to the Older Feminist Network, Women in Black, Old Women in Film Group, I only recently lapsed in my membership of Growing Old Disgracefully. I wanted to know what issues were discussed in the other workshops. I imagine that Lacy’s final work will provide me with this experience.

On the tweets the general impression is not one  of  rebellion, resistance. A few mentions of the cuts, of campaigns that individuals are part of but not a feeling of general militancy against violence, and social  injustice.  

When they are frail, old women are completely ignored. The frail old woman is ‘other’. There was no space and time for talk on militancy on this subject.  Let us talk about Greenham and feminist consciousness, let us talk about our youth and feminist ideas, let us talk about the young women. But the fear of disability and death that pervades our public life prevents us from acknowledging the old frail woman and there is no solidarity expressed publicly. 

 I will end on a positive note. As usual a woman only space has been enormously enjoyable.  

falls and third wave feminism

My friend has had a fall and is in hospital. The third friend this fortnight who suffered a serious fall. Are we all falls aware enough?

The trouble with living in London is that over the years we have made friends scattered all over the capital and the suburbs and keeping in contact in such cases is not always easy. Living locally becomes extremely important as we age and are less mobile and yet local  facilities are being cut. A friend who is 92 used her local library on a regular basis.  It has been shut and boarded. Although very active and still teaching music, she just cannot afford the tedious time and energy to visit another library in the borough.

I have been interviewed for a project about Third Wave Feminism. What do I think of their various activities? The Slut March, the Muff protest, the conferences. Some of the activities amuse me and in general I follow the others with no involvement.  Six years ago, on a wet, cold,  miserable winter evening I went to Trafalgar Square to join the Reclaim the Night March. I remember that I felt so pleased and relieved when I saw a banner saying 3rd. Wave feminism. I thought : ‘Great, they can take over now’. But now just as in the 80s, when the OlderFeministNetwork was formed, there does not seem to be an awareness of the existence of the older woman and the issues that she faces over three decades or more between retirement and death… For me to be feminist and political nowadays consists of raising these issues. I look at the representation of old women and try to get involved in campaigns affecting old people. It is so great when in a conference about some problems affecting the old,  Dr. Helen Carr declares ‘I am a feminist’  and hear a declared feminist point of view. *

*Addressing equalities in older people’s social care.  Dr Helen Carr Reader, Kent Law School Troubling women – the supreme court decision in Macdonald v Kensington and Chelsea

the protester

Women of the year 2011 Friday 16 December 2011 13.00 GMT The Guardian

Time magazine named The Protester as its person of the year, and women fighting injustice take pride of place among the Guardian’s women of 2011. As well as lauding those who press for women’s rights, we also celebrate great achievement – a trio of Nobel winners, political high-fliers and the stars of stars.

HETTY BOWER, PEACE CAMPAIGNER: When Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow told Hetty   Bower he hoped she’d be around for many years to come, the 106-year-old peace ­campaigner replied: ‘Please not. I am now getting tired.’ Given her work this year you would never have known. On the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, in March, she was guest of honour at a wreath-laying ceremony at Emmeline Pankhurst’s statue; Bower’s sister was a suffragette, and her own ­political education began early. She became one of the founding members of CND in 1957. She still marches, and recently spoke against ­hospital ­closures, tuition fees and cuts in services for ­disabled people. She has also spoken at an ­Hiroshima Day commemoration and took part in a Stop the War coalition demonstration. ‘As long as my legs can take me I will be participating in ­anti-war activity,’ she told Snow. ‘What sane ­person could be pro-war?’