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Getting Older

How Do We Feel About Getting Older? 
(extracted from OFN Newsletter No 210 - Oct/Nov 2014) 

“Age brings intelligence, experience, wisdom and beauty. So why are we so scared of growing old?” asks Stylist magazine.

Actually, we are not scared of getting old – being old and fit is just fine – what we are afraid of is frailty. There are plenty of old and fit role models: feminists, who are independent, can travel, exercise, take part in politics and in cultural life, meet friends or enjoy life on their own.

But when it comes to the next stage, when we can no longer live without support from health and social services, when we are dependent on others, be they family or carers, to represent us, to make our case for us, to do our shopping and intrude into our comfort zone, things look different. Can frailty and dignity be compatible?

In Western societies old people generally have a low status and are looked down upon. A study from 1998 showed that younger people tend to use baby talk – higher voices and simpler words – when communicating with people they perceive as old.

In this issue four 'OFNers' write about their feelings on ageing: Joan, Josephine, Nadia and Astra have all recently experienced significant changes that have affected their lives. They have addressed these challenges according to their own individual histories, personalities, and experiences but health, wealth, and social status also influenced the choices they had.

Joan and Josephine acknowledged their need for greater support. This, as Joan shows, is scary in itself. Giving up possibly everything tried and trusted is a step into the unknown at any age, but finding new friends and activities is as rewarding in old age as when younger – perhaps more so.

Astra and Nadia are housebound due to physical decline. Nadia, who is recovering from accidents, can still make her own arrangements, whereas Astra can only hope that suitable accommodation will become available quickly so that she can spread her wings again. 


FOUR WOMEN AGEING 

Joan 

Left: The Extra Care Village in Birmingham


"Here is an account of the big step I took a year ago, to sell my little house and garden in Birmingham and to move into an Extra Care Village. This is the third in the city and six are planned. 

There are 17 altogether, the furthest north is Sheffield and the furthest south is Milton Keynes.) I had to sell my home three months before the Village opened, so I had the additional complication of moving in to digs as an interim measure. I was the first ones in here, at 9 a.m. on 7 October 2013, a date I will never forget!  Others were coming in through the day, and of course all the weeks that followed. Three removal vans were lined up as I arrived and because I saw six men rushing my furniture and many boxes higgledy piggledy into my flat you will understand that I just wanted to get in there myself and see that it all went in the right places, and I was not in the mood for fanfare, photos, and the welcoming hullabaloo! 

I had never lived in a flat before and at first it felt really strange, especially as the Village felt so empty. There are 240 flats, mine is on the ground floor but has a balcony about five feet from the ground due to the sloping nature of the site. At first I felt sad and very unsure whether I had done the right thing, moving here. Gradually I got to know a lovely feminist woman. We have become real friends. She and I were soon elected as ‘Street Reps’. There are five ‘Streets’, and we have Street Meetings each month. This led to us joining with eight other members to form the Residents Association representing all the residents.

I soon joined the Gardening Group and have also got involved in helping out at the Girls’ School adjacent to the Village, growing vegetables and fruit, which has helped me miss my allotment less. I have made other friends, too. Apart from this, I am involved in the Library Group where I do a regular shift. Every week I read to a delightful man who has sight problems and I have started to facilitate a Writing Group. We have a Book Group and Film Club and just started a U3A. I am so glad to have a shop, café, restaurant and bar available, too. At last I feel that I have made the right decision to come here. You may be interested to hear there are plans to extend Extra Care Villages to London! "

Josephine 

"1. Old age lasts a long time – I’ve been drawing the old age pension for 25 years!

2. It is a dynamic process, with physical fitness and abilities constantly changing and imposing the need to learn different behaviours. For instance, after slipping off a kerb and fracturing my pelvis while talking as I walked, I learned to watch my feet all the time. Similarly, after misjudging traffic speed while crossing the road after dark, I learned I could no longer run without falling over (and thoroughly frightening a poor driver!)

3. There is also a reduction of cognitive abilities. I can no longer count on completing crosswords.

4. There is no point mourning all this. I think of it as a survival tax."




Nadia

"Greetings everyone, old age ain’t kind as many of you know, but it comes to all of us if we are lucky enough to live that long. I count old age from 80. I’m now 83 and, having had many falls and fractures, I find I can no longer do all the things I have been used to doing. My latest fall involved a fracture of a vertebrae ten weeks ago and I’ve been in a brace for eight weeks so far. I have been told I can start taking it off at the end of this month. Hurrah!!

So how has it been? Frustration, anger, depression come to mind, and the question: why has this happened to me? I have gone from feeling down to being optimistic. It’s like being in a long tunnel but trying to keep in mind that there is light at the end that I am working towards. I am lucky to have my son nearby, and a wonderful cleaner who helps out and does the shopping. My friends all live far away so cannot visit often, but we keep in touch.

I remain optimistic; it’s a long way back. I do exercises every day, sitting in the chair – arms legs neck ankles wrists. It is essential we keep our muscles working, especially in old age. Life is good. Miss you all."

Astra

8 June 2014. "It’s the wrong time and the wrong place where I am living now. Since 1974, I’d been settled in a small upstairs flat opposite woods. I’d never moved away till recently. Both a social worker and an occupational therapist agreed that my beloved flat is no longer safe for me. It is the steep flight of stairs and the slippery bath and more recently my inability to stand unaided after a fall that finally convinced them that my flat was no longer suitable for me, an 86 year-old with a history of falls, both indoors and out, over more than a dozen years.

 This settled the matter of what my local council could or should do with me. So it was that I found myself in my first care home and then a second care home, each one populated by people who are deaf or demented, sometimes both. Mealtimes are silent except for the TV in

the corner or the carers urging the residents to eat not sleep at the table. Unfortunately there is no-one with whom I can have a conversation so I draw or read or wait. I’m currently on a waiting list for a flat in a nearby sheltered housing estate. This experience is teaching me patience if nothing else.

It’s now August and I’m still stuck in the same inappropriate and isolating care home in north London. Little has changed except that now I need more self-control than ever to avoid screaming inside at the lack of anyone with whom I can have a chat or a laugh. I need a break from the silences at meal times, game times, and exercise times. As I said, the residents are either deaf or have dementia or both. One of the staff members said to me “your wings have been clipped” (how can I fly again, I ask?).

I’m still on a waiting list for a self-contained flat in a sheltered housing estate. I wonder if a vacancy will turn up by my 87th birthday (30 November). Or will I have to carry on for another year? Or more? I try to concentrate on the positives: a room of my own, daily clean sheets/towels/clothes/hot showers, reasonably tasty food and, very important, helpful carers. The carers deserve praise for their patience, stamina and good humour. It’s not their doing that I’ve been misplaced into a care home while I wait for that elusive flat.

Before I landed in this home there was gardening, singing, drawing, bingo, etc. Now there are only weekly seated exercises and bingo. Further indoor and outdoor activities would greatly benefit all of us, but government cuts have obliterated all so-called non-essentials. The sweet-smelling garden is hardly used at all except by me and is a missed opportunity for fresh air and socialising. The carers could benefit from training to stimulate the residents to sleep less and move about more, even though many of them seem to prefer TV and dozing. Are they heavily medicated, I wonder?

Now I’m looking for a mature, daily volunteer to keep me company while I go for walks and do exercises. I need to be able to walk unaided as I used to do before my most recent fall (1½ years ago).

Astra has been part of the OFN since the 1980s and would love to hear from other feminists. You can get contact her by e-mailing her son at: adamblaug@gmail.com."

We are sorry to announce that since contributing to the above article, Astra has passed away.  Please click here to go to her tribute page.

 Just thinking …

 

“Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body.

Rather we should turn up skidding in sideways, chocolate in one hand, champagne in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming:

 

“WOO HOO! - What a ride!”

                                             Mae West