Some people don’t give a fig for anyone else – that’s a fact of life. As long as someone else’s situation does not affect their own directly, they’ll continue to turn a blind eye and get on with their own life. Sadly, this cannot be changed easily and we have to rely on the more giving section of society to bother with a community ethic. The silly thing here is that we all need to take this seriously as whatever happens within our communities will have a slight impact on us all eventually. It is commonly stated that we have lost some of our community ethic in recent decades, and we have the tendency to live by the seat of our pants rather than seeing the longer term implications of what might be happening.
We do have the opportunity to be a little more proactive and prepared, if only we take a step back and consider things from the perspectives of others. One aspect of my research is the threats older adults face to their well-being, and, because there will be more older adults around in future, we have to sit up and take notice, otherwise we will find ourselves falling into the usual trap of knee-jerk reacting rather than taking preventative measures to anticipate issues that will inevitably arise.
Detachment is an enormous factor in whether action is taken or not. Somebody right in the heart of a situation might be the best person to advise on what needs to be done, but very often they are simply powerless to have any influence. This is why we need some kind of radar to pick up on those in difficulty, or at risk of whatever it is. However, we cannot start to identify people affected unless we recognise what, exactly, the circumstances of risk might be.
Let us consider older adults and the factors that can lead to a decline in the quality of life. I am going to suggest we sub-divide these further as not all are bad, as generalisations can be harmful in themselves when they promote assumptions to be made that might not always be the case. Below are some possible scenarios that could apply to older adults – all, in fact, based upon situations I personally have observed over the years, and certainly not uniquely.
Isolation, loneliness and solitude
Carers trapped looking after the needs of a family member can often feel extremely isolated, as their social outlets diminish in the face of not being able to break away. These situations often last years rather than months and many suffer in silence.
Younger members of families often are busy getting on with their own lives, and may even not appreciate just how their parents and grandparents might feel. Especially if they have moved away to other parts of the country or world.
When friends move on or simply become ill or pass on, people in retirement, without the kinds of social links they previously enjoyed, can find themselves without mechanisms for introducing new friends into their lives. People have to have continuing opportunities for building social bonds.
Some older people barely have the money to provide the basics. So anything extra is considered a luxury.
Some may even be guilty of mis-managing their finances so as to end up with little left for later life. Not anticipating living longer than a certain amount of time can sometimes catch people out.
Even people who have tried to be prudent can find that the cost of living and bills overtakes their original perception of what it could have costed. Think in terms of two decades of inflation.
Older adults are not a bottomless crock of gold to be plundered, and much of the ‘activity’ that can be engaged in can be low cost or even free. Indeed, to be sustainable it is generally going to have to be free or very low cost. This ideally means than some other ‘payment’ or support needs to be devised to offset the immediate costs.
Dark rooms, noise outside, violence can all leave one feeling vulnerable. A common statement from older people I have spoken to is that they don’t like returning home in the dark to an empty house.
Being slower, needing physical support to move around, finding steps up tricky can alienate someone when in a fast-flowing public place. Simply assuming a facility or event is available to all is a great generalisation.
Feeling forgetful, losing something, finding technology (even a house phone) difficult to operate can render someone apprehensive. SO some people can’t even get past the first hurdle to find out information, let alone arrange something.
Inevitably the body throws some curve balls as we age. Some people perhaps manage better than others, but it is often the case that once more time is spent sitting or lying down, the old muscles lose the habit and, combined with problems like those associated with the vascular system, the ability to simply get up can be a struggle. Older adults need some things close and properly accessible to them.
Some people resist using aids to move around, even though they should be using them. Environments need to be conducive to the age of people they are meant for – Safe and welcoming are all relative terms.
Carrying things with you when you have enough trouble simply getting about can be a challenge. Carrying equipment can be a struggle, especially on public transport.
In fact, many older people rate their health as good, and tend to carry on with things without letting conditions they suffer from get them down. Perhaps visits to medical services are more common, and it can take longer to recover even from colds, but often a lifetime of resilience pays off in later life. It helps to have a warm, comfortable facility and to allow for sudden changes in plan.
There are always going to be those who still stick to their unhealthy vices, but, no matter how old someone is, a healthy lifestyle should be encouraged. Peer pressure can be both a positive and a negative influence, but access to nutritious food and refreshments, for instance, is important to keep energy levels up.
Decline in faculties such as eyesight and dexterity can contribute to a feeling of not being able to do things as one once could. Materials, equipment and even furniture need to take this into account.
Independence is lost when driving a car becomes unpleasant or impossible. For whatever reason, people need suitable alternatives.
Friendships change, adapt and change throughout life. And they shuld be seen as continuing to do so for the extending years of older adulthood.
The good news is that a Community ethic can help relieve many of the problems stated here, if it is encouraged and allowed to flourish. If no such philosophy is engendered in the immediate community, then we can only expect more hardship to proliferate.
What we must realise is that we need to look beyond the immediate few years and to understand that older members of our communities need to be thinking in terms of decades of sustainable activity. In other words, they have to be ready for adaptation and change and the multiple challenges that can be posed, because much of the change will occur at unplanned times and will have a domino effect on their lives and the lives of those around them. We must not just think it is somebody else’s problem.