In the run up to Christmas, you hope for some news stories that spread happiness and goodwill. So I turned to the BBC News Website for some inspiration. Obviously you first have to pretend not to see all the stories about the never ending conflict in the Middle East and the human tragedy and terrorism that flows from it. Even after two thousand years, very near to the birthplace of Christ, there are few happy Christmas stories these days.
I narrowed my search closer to home and looked for stories about elderly people in the UK. There were 17 featured headlines in December:-
- The first group of stories were all about the lack of resources and pressure on the NHS created by the “burden” of elderly people, either in need of hospital care or unable to return home after treatment.
- “NHS apology over dementia care”
- “Patients moved as ward is closed”
- “More beds needed to ease pressure on hospitals”
- The second group of stories are all about elderly abuse and poor standards of care.
- “Care Home boss stole from elderly”
- “Gang guilty of pensioner phone scam”
- “Care Home boss sorry over death”
- “Elderly and disabled care at risk”
- “Pair fined after care home death”
- All but one of the remaining stories were about the reduction of services affecting older people, such as the closing of local bank branches and the high levels of loneliness and isolation amongst elderly people.
None of these stories make you feel better about life as you age. Indeed the weight of pessimistic stories like this just adds to the burden of getting older. Yet, is this a true picture of reality for most older people?
The final headline is the one bit of good news:-
“Share of life in good health ‘rising'”
This is a report on a research study recently published in The Lancet. The research carried out at Newcastle University was a comparison of two previous studies of older people made in 1991 and then 20 years later in 2011. The researchers found that at the end of the study period, men experienced four more years of good health and for women it was three years, compared to the group in 1991. Significantly the later group rated their own health better. The researchers also found that cognitive impairment was reduced and there was also a lower level of serious disability among the latter group.
So beneath all these stories there is an underlying improvement in the health and lifestyle of older people. This won’t reduce the pressure on the NHS because of the growing number of older people, but it does mean that there is an active and relatively fit group of elderly people who could be used to support many of the disadvantaged people in society. If, as a society, we work together to better support the more vulnerable older people, we can surely speak up for them and protect them from abuse and exploitation.