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Gloomy article on ageing by Mary Beard - Page 2 - Carers UK Forum

Gloomy article on ageing by Mary Beard

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Surely that 'statistically it ain't gonna happen' is based on current lifestyles, which are so appallingly unhealthy on just about all fronts!

Hopefully (!), if our generation adopts a healthier lifestyle (tricky for carers I know!!)(er, impossible????), with good diet, good exercise and good mental and social activity, we can reduce those statistics considerably?

I suppose it all depends on whether there is more to the dementia epidemic than unhealthy lifestyles, eg, if it's being caused predominantly by, say, exposure to toxic chemicals accumulating in our bodies just through modern life etc.

To me, the really invidious 'catch 22' of our own old age - well, mine, at any rate!(if I get there!!!!) - is that, vow as I may never to be a burden to my own son and his family when 'that time' comes, if dementia IS my lot, then doing away with myself 'in good time' will not be something I'm mentally capable of doing by then....

But these are dark, dreary thoughts, and for the moment I'm going to be optimistic and base my coming old age on a healthy lifestyle for minimal burden (to me as well as my son). :)
I didn't find her article unduly gloomy: just realistic. All of us here know the facts, and she has not exaggerated them in any way.
What Prof. Beard does not spell out is that, as a society, we are still on a very steep learning curve in dealing with old age. Great age and the many burdens it brings used to be the exception rather than the rule. The medical and social advances of the 20th century, and even the introduction of widespread rapid transport, have made it possible for a far higher proportion of the population to live into their 80s and 90s and beyond, and we have not yet grasped how to deal with that. In the not-too-distant past (in historical terms) many people died 'young' by our standards from illnesses and conditions that we are now able to treat. One of my great-grandmothers died in her twenties from appendicitis, leaving a 2-year-old daughter (my grandma); the medical crisis I suffered myself two years ago (peritonitis) would certainly have killed me if I had been in a time -- or place -- where it had been impossible for diagnosis and emergency surgery to be carried out fast. I was already 'old' by the standards of a century ago, but here I am still at 73, alive to tell the tale. And to face whatever fate has in store for me in the future.
As the article implies, our (understandable) concentration on dealing with the illnesses that usually killed people in the past has its flip-side. The medical establishment, politicians, social planners of all kinds, need to start thinking far more about how to handle a society in which we need to care for large numbers of physically and mentally incapacitated people; not only the elderly, but also those with disabilities that make it impossible for them to be independent at any phase in their lives. I agree with M.B. that future generations will be shocked by how we sometimes treat our old people, but I hope they will also have the historical perspective to understand that we are still learning how to deal with an unprecedented situation.

Tristesa
Thank you for saying that, tristesa. I too think the article is clear-eyed rather than gloomy.
Tristesa, only today I was reading in the papers that there are going to be a whole upcoming generation of young adults with severe disabilities, physical and mental, because of the ability now of so many premature babies and those suffering from other birth complications to survive, which in the past they did not. That, too, will need to be catered for.

I do think, though, there is a case for saying that there was probably a fair amount of 'elder caring', as well as for children and adults with disabilities, in the past, but it was 'invisible' to society as a whole - because, of course, that caring would have been carried out, in the home, by guess who? Yup, that's right, the women! And what historians or politicians ever cared about what women had to do??? Zilch, that's what!

As everyone on this forum knows, when the 'infirm' for whatever reason are cared for at home, by family, they, and their carers, become 'invisible', so no one 'important' (!) has to bother about them (carers or carees.)

It's because we no longer have the large extended families that used to be the norm, and most families being local to a particular area, rather than far flung around the country (and even the world), but now the 'infirm' either have to be cared for entirely by their parent/spouse/adult child - or else, of course, 'outsourced' to third party carers - that the problem of caring for the infirm has (slowly!) become 'visible' to politicians. The existence of the welfare state has also made the infirm visible, in that financing care for the infirm has an impact on public spending and taxation.

So, we are facing, really, a 'perfect storm' of caring - a booming population overall, medical advances mean we have special needs children surviving who wouldn't previously, elderly people surviving who wouldn't previously, combined with far smaller families to do the caring, added to which there is huge pressure on public finances and austerity cut backs etc etc.

It's not a great outlook.
Yes, you are right on all points. 'Invisible' caring by women in extended families is a part of social history that has probably been vastly underestimated and hidden. The current and future survival of more people with disabilities is indeed another major factor in the change, as well as the survival into frail old age of a much higher proportion of the population.

All societies up to the late 19th century had what we would regard as shockingly high rates of mortality of infants and young children. Another personal example: one of my great-grandmothers had 18 children (including two sets of twins): only(!) eleven survived infancy. And this was not in an urban slum, but in a reasonably well-to-do farming family. In the past, many healthy babies died of trivial childhood illnesses and accidents that are now fairly easy to prevent or treat, but other infant deaths were of those suffering from disabilities that would have affected them and their families all their lives had they lived. Nature is concerned only with the survival of the species, and has no interest in the fate or value of individuals. Indeed, Nature's position (if it had a conscious position) would be that the less fit should be culled for the good of the species... (It is exactly the position we humans take in connection with breeding livestock). In regarding each and every human life as intrinsically valuable, and striving to protect it, we need also to think about the side-effects of that approach, namely an ever-increasing proportion of citizens who require assistance and support. I am not arguing against the value of every life, only saying that following that belief alters the 'natural' balance in which the weaker go to the wall.

Nature may yet have her revenge on our medical advances: increasing bacterial resistance to antibiotics may well take us back to the time, more than 50 years ago now, when quite common infections were untreatable and sometimes fatal. Extreme population growth and overcrowding, and the resultant competition for resources, leads to wars and violence, situations that bring about the death of many healthy adults and children and thus the reduction of populations. I am fairly certain that within the next 50 years of so, planned voluntary self-euthanasia will become legal and properly supervised in our societies as part of the strategy for dealing with the increase in the numbers of dependent elderly people.

My general point is that we are in a time of rapid and extreme change. We could try to foresee and handle the difficulties ourselves, but that would require many changes to systems that we regard as 'normal'. Frankly, it would require a rejection of capitalism and a truly socialist system. That's not going to happen. So Nature will take a hand. It won't be pretty.

Tristesa
Well, I've dusted of my weights and laundered my leggings and have recently been trying to fit in 30 mins of exercise into my day....I get up before 6am and don't start work until 11.30am so this is do-able. I try to complete a crossword at least four times a week, and I also read, but this means I don't go to sleep before 2am most mornings. The watching of the telly and Coronation Street is however becoming problematic...I shall have to start weaning myself away from this activity. Add caring into the mix and I think I'm going ever so slowly do-lally!

I'm 57 and I still can't find the right words for people, places and things, my maths....counting backwards in sevens from 100 for me is nigh on impossible, my husband on the other hand is like rain-man and he has several areas of his brain effectively 'missing'. Should I be worried?

No I'm not making light of this topic, it's my way of coping. At my worst moments I could often be found laughing manically at life's situations, and people joined in!!

Seriously though, I am trying to look after myself as best I can, a little exercise daily, eating the right things and so on. BUT the biggest and the most elusive thing (especially whilst caring) in promoting the road to ageing well is long and enduring friendships, and sometimes this one element is the hardest thing to maintain when you become a carer and a caree.

Here's hoping if I do lose it, I don't go like my own mum, that was awful to watch. I hope I become one of the 'happy daft'. I looked after a number of elderly in my youth, and I can still recall the names of the ladies and gents that belonged to this club. They made me smile and laugh out loud at the time and when I remember them today I still smile broadly and their memories lighten my spirit. Oooh please if I do go down the path of no return, let it be as a 'happy dafter'.
Treez I totally agree with you when you say:

"Seriously though, I am trying to look after myself as best I can, a little exercise daily, eating the right things and so on. BUT the biggest and the most elusive thing (especially whilst caring) in promoting the road to ageing well is long and enduring friendships, and sometimes this one element is the hardest thing to maintain when you become a carer and a caree."

Like you, if I must go down that "path of no return" I would wish to be in a happy state.


(Edited)
PS I have deleted last part of this post in case it upset or offended anyone - I hope it didn't.