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.

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.

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 www.oldwomaninfeaturefilms.wordpress.com. )

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Simone’s thoughts on ageing and disability

It is Josephine’s post that inspired me to write this. I am 79 and have been in retirement for 20 years. For the last twenty years I have gone through constant adaptations: to  the liberation from work, the loss of working in a team, the freedom of travelling where and when I liked, the new responsibilities of looking after my parents, their death, the involvement in political activities, the  new social networks, the role of an active grandmother, the children’s separations divorces or other crisis.

Now nearly 80 I am getting progressively deafer and my energies are declining. The two losses conspire to make me conscious of what I fear most of all about ageing : isolation. My children, grandchildren and step grandchild (child of my son’s partner by another father) live in other towns. I see them on holidays or during the rare visits they have time for. I have no friends who live locally.

I have always relied on public transport and distances did not affect my attendance at cultural and social events. Now I tend to avoid these not only because of the effort necessary to travel long distances but also because once there I do not follow most of what is being said on the platform or the noisy environment. Theatre going is out and English and American films are often hard work. The foreign ones with subtitles are the most comfortable.

I talk to old the old women who sit next to me on the bus. I am often told : “Well one has to get out doesn’t one”. “You cannot stay at home all day”.  “I like going to the shopping centre it is an outing isn’t it?”. Will I get to this stage?

I fear the creeping isolation. Will I be able to adapt to it?.

 

 

 

 

Nadia thoughts on ageing and disability

From the OFN Newsletter No 210 October-November 2014

Greetings everyone, old age ain’t kind as many of you know, but it comes to all of us if we are lucky enough to live that long. I count old age from 80. I’m now 83 and having had many falls and fractures, I find I can no longer do all the things I have been used to doing. My latest fall involved a fracture of a vertebrae ten weeks ago and I’ve been in a brace for eight weeks so far. I have been told I can start taking it off at the end of this month. Hurrah!! So how has it been? Frustration, anger, depression come to mind, and the question: why has this happened to me? I have gone from feeling down to being optimistic. It’s like being in a long tunnel but trying to keep in mind that there is light at the end that I am working towards. I am lucky to have my son nearby, and a wonderful cleaner who helps out and does the shopping. My friends all live far away so cannot visit often, but we keep in touch. I remain optimistic; it’s a long way back. I do exercises every day, sitting in the chair – arms legs neck ankles wrists. It is essential we keep our muscles working, especially in old age. Life is good. Miss you all.

Josephine thoughts on ageing and disability

First appeared in the Older Feminist Newsletter No 210 October-November 2014

1. Old age lasts a long time – I’ve been drawing the old age pension for 25 years!

2. It is a dynamic process, with physical fitness and abilities constantly changing and imposing the need to learn different behaviours. For instance, after slipping off a kerb and fracturing my pelvis while talking as I walked, I learned to watch my feet all the time. Similarly, after misjudging traffic speed while crossing the road after dark, I learned I could no longer run without falling over (and thoroughly frightening a poor driver!)

3. There is also a reduction of cognitive abilities. I can no longer count on completing crosswords.

4. There is no point mourning all this. I think of it as a survival tax.

OFN newsletter Subscription: £10 for six issues (every second month) or £6 concs. Overseas: £18 by cheque (in pounds sterling only) or Western Union. Recipient’s details for Western Union: Molly McConville, 60 Gibson Square, London N1 0RA

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.