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, HEALTHY, SUCCESSFUL AGEING ?

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/04/unequal-until-the-end/389910/

Browsing vaguely in the early morning, I came across this article. It is about the US but the article looks at ageing from a different angle than the proselytising  “successful ageing”, “active ageing”, “healthy ageing” well-intentioned, money wasting, programmes that so infuriate me.

I will quote only a few lines from the article but Abramson’s book (The End Game .How Inequality Shapes Our Final Years. Corey M. Abramson. Harvard University Press) may be useful to the people engaged in social policy, and fund-raising endeavours.

For the affluent, old age has its challenges. For the impoverished, it’s only harder.

Perhaps the presence of shared challenges in later life explains why we’ve glossed over inequality’s effects among the elderly …  

Social circumstances affect not only how long we live, but how healthy we are when we become seniors.

Some of the elderly I encountered in my study aged with immense wealth, social support, and education. Others did so in poverty and isolation. The wealthiest people in my study had aged in or retired to communities with voluminous senior programs, while many of the poor became increasingly isolated as they struggled with piecemeal social services.

The ideal of “successful aging,” emblazoned in the collective consciousness by glossy magazine pictures of smiling senior couples watching sunsets from a beach, is more attainable for some of us than others. The reality is old age is not the end of inequality, but its end game.

I often argue that the choice given to old people between retirement/care homes and ending their lives on their own in their own homes is a false one. The rich old Americans must know what is good for them… Campaigning for a ‘healthy’ life for the old must include the demand for funds to establish structures to facilitate social life for the frail, the disabled, the financially deprived…

 

 

 

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.

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.

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/feb/16/co-housing-people-things-common-live-together-older-people

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’.

 

 

8th International Conference on Cultural Gerontology.

More than the theatre but not as much as films I love attending lectures given by academics. I appreciate their enthusiasm with the subject and enjoy good performances and communication skills. So where else to go this April but to the 8th International Conference on Cultural Gerontology in Galway.  What a feast it was for me who is often derided for my interest in Ageing.  There was 164 presentations in such diverse categories as Health and The Life Course, Ageing and Care, Arts and Humanities, Ageing in Diverse Cultural Settings, Place and Space, Meaning and Ageing, Theoretical Perspectives, Ageing and Technology, Ageing and Culture, Ageing and the Media, Policy and Ageing, Ageing and Sexuality, Ageing and the Body, Ageing and Aesthetics, Ageing and Ideology, Ageing and Performativity, Age and Ageism, Ageing and Identities, Work and Retirement, Arts and Health, Ageing and Photography/Video, Perceptions of Ageing.

I attended two of the three Plenaries and the performances of the two speakers were great. H. Moody gave a fiery performance in “Gray is Green: Elders and the Care for the Earth”  on the urgent need for our generation to engage in the fight to combat climate change. He argued that this is the main intergenerational project that we as the elders should engage in.  He knew exactly the two extreme positions that people our age tend to:  one of denial and dismissal and the other of despair and the “I am glad I will not be there” feelings.  He suggested to concentrate on some of the successes achieved to empower us to act and campaign.

On a completely different subject, Aagje Swinnen from the Netherlands gave us “Healing Words” and practical demonstration when she reported on poetry intervention in Dementia Care. She was as passionate and engaging about her subject as Moody. I felt grateful that there are some places where people suffering from Alzheimer’s are given some chance to communicate. And that there are people who dedicate themselves to this purpose.

Of the other 164 or so presentations  there were many I would have liked to attend. Some timings clashed and I wanted to have a day off to visit this part of Ireland which is so picturesque. I attended 12 presentations but will only report on three of them that I was particularly interested in as a lay person.

I often think that in the public arena the campaigns, projects and workshops about ‘positive ageing’ often ignore the  inevitability of disability. I have been to conferences for old people and community projects where accessibility and sound was very poor. I was delighted to hear Leni Marshall on this subject and can do no better that quote from her abstract :  “Conscious Aging is aging with an awareness of age studies and an activist response, with an understanding of individual identity as adaptable, capable of remaining intact even as it changes…. Combining conscious aging with a similar understanding about disability and ableism leads to a new awareness – that is, to conscious ageility”.

I met Pamela Gravagne whose book “The Becoming of Age”  on films I so admired. She tackled a completely different subject, one that bothers me when I read newspaper reports about brain imaging and the latest findings, lavishly illustrated with coloured pictures. Her talk “The (MIs)measure of Age: The constructions of Difference from Phrenology to Neurosciences” delighted me.  I kept thinking : yes , yes during her talk. She said how some neuroscientific findings often show in images the decrease in size of ‘older’ brains and justify a negative perception of old people. Having worked in a neurophysiology lab I know very well that brain function is highly plastic and depends, on physiology but also on environment and experience. I also know that imaging signals are often difficult to interpret and open to bias.  I felt I was justified in my scepticism of the general press reports .

Finally I attended the session on Ageing and Sexualities. I wanted to learn the results of Rhiannon Jones “The Experiences, Meanings, and Challenges of Older Women’s Sexualities”. Years ago I was one of her subjects and was interviewed on the phone on two occasions. I liked her approach of asking me how I thought the research should be carried out and how I felt about sex and sexual practices. I was delighted to hear that she used a wide definition of sexuality. I can only agree fully with her conclusion that “the fluidity and diversity of experiences that the older women participants narrated with this  study not only make a generalised statement about sexuality with the context of ageing impossible but also undesirable. “

This is a meagre report on a fascinating conference. There was such a lot to satisfy the interest of anybody old or young. Given the invisibility of old women in the public sphere I was excited to see that there is such a lot going on. It is a whole culture out there that most of us know little about and I fully agree with Leni Marshall. I feel I need to be aware of ageing and disability studies in order to achieve conscious ageing and consequent activism.

I enjoyed being there. Very conscious of the pressures that the participants were under, giving papers, making contacts, and worrying about funding and jobs. I had no idea how I was perceived. With the confidence that I have acquired through the responses to my film blog and the support of my film group, I felt free. So free that I decided to miss the last day and went sightseeing. But as an aside, even in this environment of 400 delegates engaged in ageing studies I was dumbfounded when one of the participants, aged 65, that I occasionally see at conferences exclaimed: “Oh you are here. You look tired, shall I get you a chair? ” . I assure you that I was full of beans, relaxed,  and not at all in need of assistance.