Being Old

Elderly people are in the news in the U.K. at the moment. You can’t escape from them – their needs, wants, problems, health and above all their longevity. Younger people must be either fed up with all the concentration on one section of the population, or apprehensive about how the passing of their own years is going to affect them. It is estimated that in a few years time out of every 1,000 people in this country, 350 will be pensioners.

Parliament has extended the age for retirement with a pension. Currently it is 65 for men. State Pension age for women is going to gradually increase from 60 to 65. State Pension age for both men and women will eventually increase again to at least 68. Today there is going to be an announcement by the government of initial legislation about helping older people to pay for domicile care without having to sell their homes, though the detail of how that can be financed is yet to be explored.

The ageing-hype is being led or fuelled by the media.

Last week there were two BBC programmes in which four so called celebrity people, two women and two men, who are over sixty, crashed in one episode into the homes of older people, and in the other sampled what it was like in four (very well appointed!) care home, where residents included people suffering from dementia. In both case they moved in for four days.

The programmes were as much designed to reflect the responses of the celebrities as to introduce us to the real situation of those who hosted them. They were typical ‘virtual reality’ editions; more for entertainment than education. Despite that, they were informative and poignant and highlighted the stress and the financial hardship of some older people. One of these was living on £3.24 a day – an insight into the two million pensioners who are estimated to be living in poverty in Britain today.

The loneliness endured by some came over very strongly, one woman was so inverted that she had almost lost the ability and certainly the wish to relate to others. ‘My life is really awful’ said another – I just don’t want to be here’. A similar reaction: ‘I don’t want to be here – I’d be better off if I was dead’. ‘I didn’t feel I was a person anymore’ said another. A man living in a downstairs flat was unable to get over the death of his wife seventeen months ago. Married for 68 years, he cried when he told his story. A woman looking after her husband confined to bed after a series of strokes said ‘The woman I was – I don’t know where she has gone…there’s no time for me’.

Today I see there is the first of two BBC programmes, this time about how ‘pensioners’ (that new category of humanity) cope with going back to work when they are over seventy.

And so it goes on. I don’t know if we like being in the limelight, but I hope good comes out of it.