By Leon A Smith
July 26, 2012
It is extremely difficult, verging on the controversial, to write a blog this week without referring in some way, however obliquely, to the Olympics and/or to Olympic lanes. What a strange concept this is. Separate lanes for very important people throughout London whilst the rest of us sit and steam in the heat in the remaining clogged up lanes. I am a fundamentalist supporter of the Olympic Games being in London – I think it is something which we as a city should be incredibly proud of and I have absolutely no doubt that we we’re going to do it well. But Olympic Lanes are more difficult to get my head around! Apart from anything else, why would we want to segregate Very Important People from less important people. I will always remember a school in my home town where pupils who were receiving free lunches had to queue up for their meals in a separate queue – probably the ultimate in stigmatisation.
One of the major buzzwords in recent decades has been “integration”. Integration of children who previously may have gone to specialist schools such as those for the hard of hearing into main stream education; or integration of people with learning difficulties. “Care in the Community” has thankfully emptied out many of our long term psychiatric hospitals in order that people could live a more “normal” integrated life in the community rather than in an institution. Dyslexia, Asperger’s and a number of other conditions are also now far more widely understood which enables people to be more fully integrated into society. Yet older people however are becoming less integrated than they were generations ago.
We have many people now, albeit a minority of the overall population over the age 80, living in care homes. Care homes exist in order to meet a demand. Nightingale House (the then The Home for Aged Jews) was originally established in 1840 in the East End of London when clearly there was a demand at that time for people wanting or needing help and care. Today over 170 years later, we are still meeting that demand, albeit the type of demand has changed. Historically the number of people coming into institutional care was very small. Caring for people in their own homes, in familiar surroundings and in the bosom of the family was the norm. Families were large with many children; somehow or the other mother or father was simply cared for. So what is different today.
The biggest phenomenon is increased longevity and with increased life expectancy comes more risks of ill health, including dementia. It therefore becomes physically increasingly difficult to care for people at home as their needs are so much greater than was previously the case. Women who may previously have taken on the role of carer at home for a parent are now increasingly at work and there are some situations where there are three generations living under the same roof, which in itself can create significant tensions. Families are more dispersed with siblings living in different parts of the world. There is therefore a need somewhere for a mother or father or aunt or uncle to be cared for. One may therefore say that contrary to other groups in society that older people going into care homes are segregated and not being cared for in the mainstream of society. To a certain extent that is true although it is perhaps somewhat unusual to have a large home where the demographic is solely and uniquely older people.
Therefore it is vital that those of us running homes do everything which we can to ensure that the maximum possible is done in terms of links to the community and integration of our residents. At Nightingale House we arrange frequent visits to synagogues, we have numerous projects and activities involving younger people, we have visits from schools, nurseries etc. Nothing can give greater joy to our residents than being in touch with their own community and/of course with children.
I am sorry but I am going to return to my opening comments on the Olympics. The Olympic Torch at the time of writing is on its 69th day of its long and winding route to Stratford. I had the pleasure of seeing the torch when it passed within a mile of Nightingale House – but wouldn’t it have been nice for a minor detour of one of the runners to bring the Torch to Nightingale (and indeed any other old peoples home). Wouldn’t it have been nice for this group of people, average age 90, to be able to have the pleasure of seeing the Torch and experiencing a flavour of the Olympics for the second time in their lives. It may well be that this has happened somewhere in the country – although I doubt it. My point is, we all need to be conscious of the need to be as inclusive as possible when it comes to older people. Physically many of them cannot come to us. We therefore have to go to them. We should never lose sight of this.