An interesting programme on television last night. ‘When Teenage meets Old Age’ involved four young people from different parts of the country becoming Care Assistants at a Retirement Home (much more plush than many I have known) and a nearby complex of housing whose residents only require minimal support. The two young women and young men were keen to have the experience, but apprehensive. ‘Old people never do anything; they’re always banging on about the past and they look down on us’ one of them said, but others were more positive and looked forward to being of help.
The reality (in as much as a programme like this is real) is a rude awakening. For a start they are expected to work fourteen hour shifts from 7a.m. Jonny finds he has to help a frail old lady of 100 have a shower – ‘without clothes!’. Jace has difficulty feeding an irascible man of 93 who shouts ‘for goodness sake, go away!’, although later it seems they come to an understanding. He wants to wear a mask before he helps clean another man who is doubly incontinent, but is then told that face-to-face contact is important, so it would be inappropriate.
Katie is deeply upset as she cares for a stroke victim who can only communicate with his eyes and hand, for it reminds her of the loss of her own father, who suffered the same.
Estenitia is rebuked by 77 year old Katy for not knowing how to vacuum properly, though they seem to make it up later. She also has problems with John (89) who has to revise his harsh ideas about single parents when he discovers that she is in that situation, and her mother is ‘father, sister, aunty, friend’ to her, and she only hopes that she will be as good a mother when her time comes. Later she says that she surprised herself in so many ways. She didn’t know she could care that much and in a way she was proud of herself.
Jonny has an interesting dialogue with a group of women residents about generational attitudes to sexual freedom, and comes to the (doubtful) conclusion that ‘it’s not so different after all’.
There were some interesting statistics. 400,000 pensioners in the U.K. are in care homes. A third of men over the age of 75 live alone. There are 120,000 people suffering from Parkinson’s, an illness with one name but several variants. Frank was a victim but was still able to play his mouthorgan and he and Jonny have a jam session, Jonny being loaned the use of his guitar. ‘It’s been a long time since anyone has sat down properly with me and played music’ said Trevor.
This was the first of a series of programmes, and I shall watch the rest with interest. It showed less of the weakness of so many TV documentaries – entertainment coming before information.
The contrast between the captivity of age and the license of youth was powerful. Filmed from the perspective of the four young people, it was also about setting free very elderly people from isolation.
We do all need each other.