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A change in attitude is required
How often do we hear comments like “Mum doesn’t do much these days but she is in her 80s”. I don’t believe you would hear that comment in every part of the world. A recent TV series showing 4 older Brits visiting the USA and Japan demonstrated how cultural attitudes differ vastly and the impact that that has had on older peoples’ quality of life is significant. I don’t say that everything I saw made me smile. The passion in some older wealthy Americans to maintain their looks through cosmetic surgery was hard to watch but they were all very committed to staying physically fit for as long as possible. The assumption in Japan was that older people have a role and contribution to make until they are completely immobilised.
One of my NAPA colleagues visited a care home in India which catered for older ladies and orphaned children. They lived together in harmony with the ladies preparing breakfast and braiding hair before school. The older folk rested during the day before preparing the evening meal, helping with homework and bathing before bed. The ladies felt valued and were meaningfully engaged for chunks of the day and the children had a wonderfully stable home life.
I am pleased that we now have more and more public figures who are actively engaged well into later life although we still seem to marvel at their ages. Why are we surprised that Judi Dench or Helen Mirren are still working? Why do we need to put peoples’ age in brackets as many of our newspapers do? You don’t see that in other countries. It is the British who seem to be hung up about age.
I believe that this ingrained culture influences how we support older people living in care settings. As soon as someone has a need for some degree of support or care we seem to want to wrap them in cotton wool, identify and record everything they can’t do and expect them to take a back seat when it comes to decision making.
I know from experience with my own family how easy it can be to override the voice of someone living with dementia. It took a supreme effort on my part to slow down and not make assumptions about abilities or inabilities. I have been in many care homes where the care team have clearly cherished and cared for the residents, willingly meeting their every need and treating them like one of their own family. Quite often though they have diminished those residents in the process. Many have lost the skills they still had on moving in because they were assumed to be dependent in all aspects of their life a soon as they arrived.
In part, I believe this is because we have an established culture of expecting older people to slow down and do little. I hope that as more and more of us live longer sheer numbers will influence and change this way of thinking. Meanwhile, NAPA will continue to press for meaningful engagement that is stimulating and empowering and enables older people to thrive and not just sit and fade away.
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