The International Writers Magazine: Ageing
June comes with the expectation of summer and Jubilees in the UK when everyone celebrates the Queen being on the throne for 60 years. Of course for her son, this is 30 years too long one suspects, but in an age when everyone’s parents are living forever (it seems) – it is a salient reminder that we might at last begin to talk about the ‘problem’.
My own mother is 92. She is currently in a hospital ward filled with ninety year olds that apparently no one wants or visits (who do not have the luxury of a royal diet either). (Yes I visit) Like Prince Charles no doubt, I too would prefer to get on with the rest of my life without having the responsibilities of care when they send her back to me again – no doubt much weaker than when she left. Multiply me by several million others in the UK – all having to care for elderly parents who are seemingly immortal, it is a huge burden on families and only set to get a lot worse. For my mother at least it is the daily humiliations that get her down, not even being able to make a cup of tea a major cause for depression. In fact depression is one of the key issues for elderly patients. There are only so many crosswords you can fill in.
I am one of the baby-boomers. Others born at the start of the boom, just post-war, are now approaching old age themselves. They probably didn’t expect to be still attending to the needs of their parents and sure as hell their own kids aren’t too keen to be doing the same for them. As pensions plummet and costs in NHS rise to cope with this tidal wave of elderly we face something like a catastrophe in the very near future. The NHS is based on care, free at the point of delivery, but old people need much more care than the average sick – help to wash, pee, feed, walk, breathe… it is an endless list. Taxes have to pay for this. A study due to be published by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) May 2012 - warns that current staff numbers are putting patients at risk. Hospital wards looking after older people should increase their staffing levels. On an average 28-bed ward there should be one member of staff for every 3.3 to 3.8 patients, the RCN said.
By the time I am gaga – which can’t be long now given the stress levels lately – I can’t see that there would be enough hospitals, money or trained personnel to actually cope. No one planned for this. All the actuaries in the life insurance and pension departments got their predictions wrong. We in the West are living at least ten years longer than the 'average mortality rate' of twenty years ago. Perhaps it is progress, or the decline in smoking or risky jobs in coalmines and such, but the fact is no one planned for this epidemic of 'old'.
Indeed take this: 'University of California researchers found that the incidence rate for all causes of dementia in people age 90 and older is 18.2% annually and significantly increases with age in both men and women. This research, called "The 90+ Study," is one of only a few to examine dementia in this age group, and the first to have sufficient participation of centenarians'. Annals of Neurology Feb 2010
Japan is rapidly developing robot technology to deal with the problem – as theirs is fastest ageing population of all. Even China will be swamped with old people in twenty years thanks to the one child system. Right now we are worried about Greece and Spain and possibly Italy going bust – but what if we all go bust – a dreadful slow implosion as more and more old people become economically redundant – all with inadequate pensions and inability to pay for care? As they sell their homes to cope with rising costs, so many houses will have to be sold it could cause a housing price crash.
All this we have to look forward to in the future. Of course it may well sort itself out Clockwork Orange style with feral youths stalking the streets and taking out anyone older than themselves. You think I jest, but it could come to that. Hell, it might be like that scene in Zardoz where the people who are living forever approach the primitive armed Sean Connery who has broken into their compound and demand to die. ‘Kill me First,’ they cry.
The gun is good. The penis is evil. The penis shoots seeds, and makes new life to poison the Earth with a plague of men, as once it was, but the gun shoots death, and purifies the Earth of the filth of brutals. Go forth ... and kill!
Science fiction has predicted all this. Anyone with an ounce of common sense will know that the problems of ageing have to be faced, but so far this is one can they firmly like to kick down the road. Euthanasia will have to be made legal (rather than compulsory). But which political party will grab that group of nettles?
The Who sang ‘I hope I die before I get old’. Now they are old (and rich) I wonder if they think about that at all. Keith Moon escaped but the rest live on.
More thoughts on this no doubt, but there is no easy solution. Ironically the younger generation now stand no chance of living to an old age because of the trash hormone laden genetically modified food they eat or chronic obesity issues. No doubt it will right itself as they die off well before their parents, but who then will care for them? Let’s hope they sell those Honda robots over here soon.
© Sam North June 2012
Author of Diamonds – The Rush of 72 (Print)
ipad (iTunes version)
& Mean Tide (print)