Posts Tagged ‘Help’

How to be a Health Advocate

Nov 28 2012

When you or someone you care for is seriously ill , there are many down to earth ways which can make all the difference in creating the essential mix of hope and healing. For the patient/health advocate team on the journey of a major sickness together, always think of it in terms of the “we” relationship, including engaging others to help.



  • Offer to be a conduit of information, and be the clinic companion.
  • Offer to check online health information to make sure it is ‘gold standard’.
  • Become an information gatherer, or find out who to contact for a ‘second opinion’ if that is what is wanted.
  • Find out if there are additional nursing, caring services, or group support in the local  area.
  • Build up hope. Avoid the statistics of the negative and provide opportunities for encouragement at all times.
  • Always support a decision once it has been made.



  • Be a good listener. We do not have to talk  about the problem or be giving advice all the time.
  • Maximise the laughs. Laughter is the best  medicine.
  • Be relentlessly encouraging among friends and family, and cultivate the friends with the most positivity.
  • Be ready for those thoughtless remarks that can sometimes drop into conversations, and if necessary be prepared to challenge them.
  • Be open to talking about spiritual questions, but don’t feel that there have to be answers or that we have to provide them. Share what wisdom we have, and be equally confident and supportive  in the silences.
  • Be honest. Avoid giving false reassurance or only dwelling on heroic tales of recovery.
  • Help the people visiting to be as normal as  possible. It does not need to be all serious.
  • Help people to understand that we are  different as a result of the illness.
  • If your patient friend doesn’t want to talk about ‘it’, that is OK.



  • Flowers and plants at home. Yes, men like flowers too.
  • Borrow a footbath from a local pedicurist for a home treat.
  • Give cashmere bed socks.
  • Give a loose-fitting pair of cotton trousers.
  • Help with the cooking.
  • Offer to find somebody who can provide a home massage.
  • Suggest a talking book if your patient friend is too tired to keep their eyes open.



  • Plan treats ahead so there is always  something to look forward to.
  • Check out whether other members of the family are coping.
  • Offer to set up a supper rota.
  • Offer to set up a group email.
  • Offer to find out about grants and financial  entitlements.
  • If your patient friend is keen on alternative medicine, find out what is available locally. If they are paying for it, check that they are not being exploited. Also check out what is available on the NHS locally.


Elders, seniors, oldies: is there a difference? Learning from Findhorn’s Experience

Apr 13 2012

My involvement in the Men Beyond 50 project has prompted me to explore elderhood: for myself and others. This is one reason for my recent visit to the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland.  For more about Findhorn in general, see my blog (link to Findhorn posting once published) on this topic.

There is an Elders Circle at Findhorn, and I joined their fortnightly meeting.  The first part of this is a half-hour meditation, guided by different members of the Circle each time, with a range of relevant themes.  When I was there, the focus was tuning into the guiding spirits of the community, which I see as a valuable part of the elders’ role.

The meditation is followed by sharing and discussion, and then social time at the nearby Blue Angel Café.  I found the conversation fascinating, as it centred on different meanings of the term elders.  The aim of this Circle is as a gathering of what could be called tribal elders: those who carry and offer wisdom for the community, who could be any age: see more on this below.

However, some at Findhorn, in their 50s and 60s, who have this wisdom, have stayed away from the Elders Circle because they believe it is a social group for oldies.  The discussion recognised the ambiguity in the term, and the need for different words to describe those older in age, such as seniors.

I suspect part of the problem in all this is that most people, until really advanced ages, don’t like to think of themselves as old, or even as senior, let alone elderly or aged.  Do we need a new word?  At least oldies sounds a bit more fun.

My short definition of elderhood, from my forthcoming book Men Beyond 50: Lost and Found, is set out below: most of this applies for men and women.  This broadly matches the views of the Findhorn Elders, who don’t have a written statement.  So here’s mine:

The Elder is a term you often find connected with maturing men, and I hear it in many men’s groups.  It’s a word with various meanings, and maybe each man needs to quest for its significance for him.  This is a summary of what it means to me.

Traditional tribal cultures had a lot of wisdom still relevant to our times.  The warrior had a crucial role in protecting the tribe and hunting food.  Men beyond warrior age were elders.  Although we imagine these tribes as hierarchies with a chief, many were guided and governed by the elders as a group.  The elders carried the wisdom, knowledge and history of the tribe, and were respected for this.  They guided, trained and initiated the young men.  Elders resolved disputes, dreamed dreams, talked to the spirit world, wove stores, and lived in a continuity between the present time, the past and ancestors, and the future – including their own death.

The role of the elder needs skills which many men in our times lack, but would be enriched if they learned: collaborating with other mature men, and supporting younger ones, for example.  See Chapter 11 for more on all this.  However, we don’t live in a tribal culture which makes this easy and natural.  This is one reason why men’s groups are so vital, to encourage and recognise these traditional, archetypal roles.

This is an excerpt from Alan’s book: if you would like to receive further excerpts and information about the book, sign up to this blog as a subscriber.

I hope this debate will continue!  Please feel free to comment on this blog.

Elders or old farts? We have a choice!

Dec 07 2011

Learning comes in fits and starts, and that’s certainly been true in my life beyond 50.  The first weekend group of maturing men was a huge leap forward for me, and is still a catalyst weeks later.

Two of the big themes of that weekend were fellowship and elderhood.  Many of us felt relief and elation to be in a circle where we belonged.  Becoming an elder was the path towards meaning and relevance that we found as a group.

It’s easy for men beyond 50 to feel irrelevant.  Surely our functions have been fulfilled?  Most of us have finished family, got beyond careers and know we’re past our prime in physical strength and what we can do with it.  That deadly term old fart sums up the prospect of many pointless years ahead.

It’s easy to understand why many older men are sunk in depression, addiction, or solitary habits.  The world won’t give us answers, we have to find them, both as individuals and as a fellowship.  Elderhood is such a big topic that I can’t explore it all in one blog: the aspect I want to consider here is giving back, being of service.

At age 63, I feel I have masses to learn about elderhood, but I do have a vision of where our generation could go with it.  First we need to find ourselves, re-invent who we are, recover a sense of confidence.  Then we need to use our talents.  The traditional roles of the elders were largely about being of service to the tribe.  Men and women beyond 50 need to re-create this role.  There are 8.5 million men of this age in the UK: that’s a huge pool of resources, and could be a big voice for change: even more if we can speak alongside mature women.

On the one hand we have an array of appalling social economic, environmental problems.  On the other hand we have … ourselves.  It may take years to create the awareness and organisations to apply most of this potential to the problems, but any of you reading this can start today.

Where to start?  Here are a few ideas:

  1. Do something soon, locally.  Ask at your local library or Citizens Advice Bureau for projects needing volunteers.  Especially for men who feel lonely and unconfident, a small step like this, being of practical help to others, can start an upward spiral.
  2. Consider the skills you have, and the issues you feel passionate about: see how you can bring these together.  It may need some research and experimentation, but it could really help you and many others.
  3. Join in with groups tackling problems that concern you.  For example, in sustainability, this could be Friends of the Earth or Transition Town.  Log on to and add your voice to their online campaigning.
  4. Consider if you could give some financial support to campaigns and charities you believe in.
  5. Start conversations about this with other elders, respond to this blog posting, help find our collective voice.

An issue which touches a lot of older men is the young men who lack fathering.  My New Year Resolution is to find good organisations who enable mature men to offer mentoring to young men, and to publicise them through

I’m delighted that the Guardian Christmas Appeal 2011 is for eight charities helping disadvantaged young people.  Since actions speak louder than words, I’m giving the only money I’ve earned from MB50 to support this Appeal.  If you’d like to support this, go to