Ageing or aging, however you spell it (and both are right) it’s the timebomb of our era.
My recent post about caring for an elderly parent is the context for my continued thinking around ageing. I still haven’t resolved this riddle for myself. I don’t know what’s right. What I can offer. What I want. And fundamentally, I’m only a bit part player in this drama. It’s not my ageing. It’s not my mum.
We have our lovely old soul staying (and thriving) while we guddle about in the very muddy waters of what care is available, how you access it, what you want, what you’re able to offer… for our parent, for us, for the family, for the time we have left together.
Ageing or aging unknowns
Like dealing with death, dealing with ageing is an emotional engagement, not a transaction. That has its own issues. Then add on the issue that we are struggling to find our options and don’t understand the system. There new relationship-building going on – mother-daughter(s) – in this new landscape. There’s facilitating decision-making for someone who’s losing confidence and ability. There’s a whole raft of ‘what ifs’ to consider. What if … she lived another 20 years… she became unwell… we changed our mind… we began to annoy each other… we set up something we couldn’t sustain.
I find it challenging to think about any of this without thinking ‘what would I want if it was my turn?’
The issue of ageing or aging is growing as our ageing population grows. Some would argue there’s never been a better time to be old. Our elders have their independence and many years more to enjoy later life. Rather than lose power and status, they share it with the next generation. We’re all more independent and grown up. Retirement communities are springing up all over the place. Sounds peachy.
Of course, it’s not. It’s thorny and tricky and treacly.
Help with research please!
Given how challenging it is, I was excited to see our business design friends at Snook are looking at this issue. (Especially after my experience trying to filter information unsuccessfully on the Care Inspectorate’s website and the experience of discovering to apply for supported living in Glasgow, you might have 26 application forms to fill in.)
Here’s what Snook say on their Facebook page: “We’re conducting research for an adult social care platform and are keen to reach out to as wide a range of people as possible. Have you used social care services and products or simply thinking about it? Arranged them for someone else? Do you work in this area as a service provider? Within a Council managing direct payments? Get in touch with us. Interviews will take place 19th Oct – 2nd Nov across the UK and will last an hour. As a thank you, participants will receive a £10 high street voucher.”
Go! Email Eve at Snook if you can help.
Facts and stats on ageing or aging
To help inform my thinking, I’m reading with huge interest Atul Gawande’s fascinating Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.
He’s a doctor who freely admits how poorly he and his colleagues have been at facing mortality and dealing with the real issues of ageing and dying in care – the focus being on medical interventions, that old taboo of death being a medical failure, not a natural inevitability.
Here are some great points from the book on ageing:
- Old people used to be a rare commodity… so those that survived were afforded respect, treated well, regarded as the sages in the community. They retained authority and status in the family and community till death. They would be the ones to lead important sacred rites and often had the political power. So back in the day, people would lie about their age… to be older. How much that has changed. Now we have 70 year old rock and rollers and celebs looking remarkably like their children with stretched, taut skin and barely a wrinkled eye. With tech setting the pace of change, those of us who are in our silver haired era are more likely to turn to our teenagers for their wisdom.
- Somewhere in the 18th century, things changed. At that time, in 1790, only 2 people out of a hundred were over 65. Now that number is more like 14 in the US and in Germany, Italy and Japan, one in 5. China has over 100 million older people.
- Where once the family home provided stability and security for multi-generations, as we became richer as a society and moved towards property ownership, the next generation wanted to go their own way and manage their own property, finances, decisions. And actually, the elders were glad of the space! We might be nostalgic about the past, but we no longer live that way because we tend not to want to. It’s in this space that the notion of retirement arose… that dreamscape where all your Bucket List ideas get to come to fruition… the space between worklife and death when you are healthy and wealthy enough – with time and savings or pension to fund the carefree life you always dreamed of.
Stats on ageing or aging
- Life expectancy was under 50 in 1900. By the 1930s it was more than 60.
- Family sizes fell from 7 in the mid-1800s to just over 3 in 1900.
- Giving birth – the average age of a woman having her last child fell from menopause to 30 or younger.
- Parenthood years – as women stop having children younger, more parents live to see their children grow into adults.
- Retirement: with kids off their hands, more parents would have at least a decade to kick up their heels before worrying about old age.
- Two generations sharing a home – across the world, in the early 1900s almost 2 in 3 people over 65s lived with a child. By the 60s, this had dropped to 1 in 4 and by 1975, it had dropped to 15%.
Ageing and independence
Our modern-day celebration of independence is all lovely until you lose your independence. Here are the measures in the US.
In the US, these 8 activities count as the “Activities of Daily Living”. You have to be able to perform these on your own to be deemed physically independent:
- use the toilet
- get out of bed
- get out of a chair
And there’s another classification: “Independent Activities of Daily Living”. If you don’t tick the boxes here, then you’re deemed to lack the capacity to live safely on your own:
- Prepare your own food
- Maintain your house
- Do your laundry
- Manage your meds
- Make phone calls
- Travel alone
- Manage your finances.
I’ll read more from this book to help me think and share insights.
And I’ll be moving up my agenda the Bucket List desire… find a big house to share with friends in my later years.