Living a long time is now a common experience but living with multiple health problems make it a challenge. The word ‘geriatric’, based on the Greek ‘geras’= age, was invented by Ignatz Leo Nascher (b.1863). but only relatively recently has gerontology become a special study. Old age psychiatry was only recognised as a speciality by the Department of Health in 1989, although there are now many scientific journals devoted to the study. More than 40% of the N.H.S. budget – prior, that is, to its recent radical commercialisation- is spent on people aged 65 and over, and yet compared to some other fields of research the proportion devoted to research is still relatively small.
Age Concern says that over 2M people over the age of 65 in England have symptoms of depression but the vast majority are denied help. Doctors are psychologically programmed to heal people and dementia may be eased but cannot be cured. More than 820,000 people in the U.K. live with Alzheimer’s and other dementias but again research is under funded and too many care homes are left unsupervised.
Person-centred care tailored to meet the needs of the individual rather than those of the group or their staff is essential. The Alzheimer’s Society claims that more than 100,000 sufferers are being given the wrong drugs which actually worsen their condition. It may not be easy, but people with the illness can live quite full and productive lives. Those who care for them – at home or in institutions of care, also need support. There are as yet few signs that the U.K. government regard this as a priority.
And then we die. ‘Death’ says Wolpert ‘needs a lot of preparation’, which is precisely what doesn’t happen. People try to distance themselves from its inevitability, and haven’t made financial provision for the latter days of possible enfeeblement.
People should be given the opportunity – or take it – to discuss their dying and their death and be told the truth by health professionals.
There are many end –of- life decisions that have to be made: wills, for example and, given the option, where and how to die. And when, Wolpert believes. This is one of the conclusions that the author comes to at the end of his study of ageing. ‘We should die before the ravages of old age really damage us’, he argues. Euthanasia should be an option for someone for whom life no longer is life as we know it.
I found the book informative, and I hope these three postings are a reasonably accurate summary of some of it. Wolpert is a realist and wants all the time to be true to the facts and the challenges that they pose. A lot of the feel of the book is reflected in some of our Ageing blogs.
I sometimes found it difficult to read and I tipped near to being less than cheerful! But I recommend it.
*’You’re Looking Very Well – The Surprising Nature of Getting Old’ – Lewis Wolpert. Pub. Faber and Faber. £14.99