Old age
Lifestyle

Death and all his friends. Looking after the elderly

why I fear for my children's futureLast year’s BBC documentary ‘The child of our time’ presented by Professor Robert Winston focussed on the development of children from 0-13 years.

The documentary showed the difficulties parents faced in coming to terms with their babies developing into young children and into teenagers.

Parents talked of their feelings of love, happiness and worry for the future of their children.

Parenthood doesn’t prepare you for the speed with which the years pass – from babies – toddlers – young children – teenagers to adulthood.

The only thing we know for sure other than birth and taxes is that death is inevitable.

No school, college or university prepares us for that eventuality and that is a very difficult pill to swallow.

This was made more apparent to me recently when a very dear friend and neighbour only 73 years of age passed away. In less than six months he was dead and it was this stark reality that made me appreciate just how vulnerable my parents are if they fall ill.

The documentary made me examine the relationship I have with my parents, watching them grow old and more frail as age slowly takes its toll. It is difficult to imagine them not being ‘there’.

Their agedness is even more marked as we live far away and we only see them 4-6 times a year.

Old ageWith our busy lives and the children’s school activities it makes it virtually impossible to take a weekend off to see them and so they are the ones that travel to us but I am only too aware that this window is closing as my father will find it too tiring to drive the two hours to spend a weekend with us.

What will happen when one of them is ill and requires long term care?

Long distance travelling two or three times a week isn’t practical when we both work and the children can’t be left on their own.

When my eldest child leaves home at 18 my parents will be be 81 years old and I will still be caring for a 14 year old. I may well be faced with the prospect of looking after my younger son as well as ailing parents.

Like many of my peers we are facing the stark reality that our middle age may not be as exciting as we had planned, instead we face the prospect of caring for our elderly parents.

It is a sobering thought.

As much as we cherish our parents and with children having flown the nest, we should be looking forward to a slower pace with less demands on our time. A time to consolidate relationships with partners and take stock of our lives and look forward to our retirement.

Aren’t we entitled to some ‘we’ time after years spent bringing up children?

The UK’s ageing population is having a major impact on public services creating extra demands for care and support. Modern medicine means that people are living longer up from 67 in 1950 to 79 today.

The fastest growing age group is the over 85’s. Fewer people are dying suddenly, instead they decline into chronic conditions which require long term treatment and care; care which the UK is struggling to provide.

A reduction in their rate of income tax, exemption from rising national insurance payments, free TV licences, winter fuel allowances and free transport are some of the benefits the ageing population are entitled to and rightly so.

If they’ve been working and contributing all their working years, shouldn’t the elderly be entitled to some comfort in their twilight years?

10,000,000 people in the UK are over 65. In 20 years this is likely to be 15,500,000. By 2050 it will be over 20,000,000. There are 3,000,000 over the age of 80 and this could double by 2030. One in six is over 65 and by 2050 one in four will be. 65{1d74e91790c4d065853aa1e61f19fbe549b48cdbdef5356588c1984bdc5a1a2f} of the Department for Work and Pensions benefit goes to those over working age equivalent to £100 billion in 2010/11 or one-seventh of public expenditure. (ONS)

The number of people aged 60 or over reached 14,000,000 in 2013 and this is expected to rise.

In asian cultures old people are revered rather than frowned upon, in Japan two-thirds of old people live with their families, in european countries like Italy, 40 per cent live with their offspring and Spain is similar, in the UK it is 15{1d74e91790c4d065853aa1e61f19fbe549b48cdbdef5356588c1984bdc5a1a2f}.

The extended family is prevalent with children choosing to stay in close proximity of their parents where care can be administered more easily, a care home is often the last resort.

The UK no longer has extended family units with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins all living nearby or in the same household.

We are a society of nuclear families – parents and children only, often living far away from parents.

A socially and geographically mobile generation of which I am one, have left their folk behind at home with no one to care for them but the state. In spite of my parents insistence that I move south after I finished my education in search of better jobs and opportunities.

Over the last fifty years there has seen exponential growth of women in the workplace leaving no one at home to look after elderly parents. Communities are not so closely knit as they once were and families are smaller.

Almost thirty years and with four grand-children, I sense my parents sadness, tinged with regret that they weren’t there when I needed them the most. The distance and the fact they were working until they were 67 was not conducive to a hands-on grandparent grandchild relationship.

As a society we are responsible for looking after the elderly, as children some of that responsibility surely falls on us and as the only daughter most of the responsibility will fall on me.

My grandmother lived to the age of 93 and the prospect of looking after my mother when I’m in my 60s causes me grave concern.coffin

It may be selfish that I should want some ‘me’ time after my children have left home, hobbies and travelling are what my husband and I are looking forward to.

But I also want to spend time with my parents in a fun and loving way not as a full time carer and not when I am working full-time with a young family to support.

So who is responsible for the long term care of not just my parents but our parents?

In less than three decades the world’s old will out-number the under 15s for the first time and as the elderly population grows the working population will shrink.

The problem of elderly care is hurtling toward us like a speeding truck, it is the big elephant in the room that no one seems to want to talk about and it will take the political will of the main parties to work together and formulate a plan.

As for my parents, I do have some ideas on how I will manage long term care as and when it is needed but I will cross that bridge when I get to it.

What do you think about your parents getting old? Are you worried how you will care for them?

Do you see it as your responsibility? How far should the state help and do you think communities can work together to help?

Drop me a line or a comment and share your thoughts here.      

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