Posts Tagged ‘Social issues’

NHS ageism ‘stopping elderly getting cancer treatment’

Dec 18 2013

Widespread ageism throughout the NHS means elderly cancer patients are sometimes being written off as “too old for treatment”, doctors and nurses have admitted.

About half of those surveyed in an ICM poll (48 per cent) said they thought “stereotypes and assumptions” about older people were resulting in some patients not getting the best treatment for cancer.

A similar proportion (45 per cent) said they had dealt with a cancer patient who had been refused treatment on the grounds of age.

And two-thirds (67 per cent) said they had heard other health workers speaking to older cancer patients in a “condescending or dismissive way”.

The poll of 100 doctors and 55 cancer nurses was conducted for Macmillan Cancer Support.

Ciarán Devane, chief executive of the charity, said: “Health professionals’ concerns about the prevalence of age discrimination in cancer care mustn’t be ignored.

“Unless staff are given the time and training to carry out a proper assessment of a patient’s overall physical and mental wellbeing, some patients will be unfairly written-off as “too old” for treatment.

“The right practical support, whether it’s transport or help with caring responsibilities must also be put in place so older people needing treatment can actually take it up.”

He added that the number of people aged 65 and over who were living with cancer was “set to rocket in the next 20 years from 1.3 million to 4.1 million.

“Unless the barriers to timely treatment are tackled now, many older people could die unnecessarily from cancer and services will become unaffordable,” Mr Devane warned.

Macmillan has contributed to a Department of Health report, together with Age UK, detailing the scope of the problem and what needs to be done to rectify it.

It states: “The Government has set out ambitious plans to improve cancer survival rates in England, and it has recognised that it will not deliver on those plans unless it tackles inequalities in terms of access to and outcomes from treatment.”

The report warned that elderly people did not appear to be benefiting from advances in fighting cancer.

“From 1995-97 to 2003-05, cancer mortality rates fell by 16-17 per cent for those under 75, but increased by two per cent in those aged over 85,” it noted.

It added: “There is a growing body of evidence to suggest older patients are less likely to receive the most clinically effective treatment for their cancer.

“Suboptimal treatment can lead to less favourable cancer outcomes, and therefore, may impact negatively on cancer survival rates.”

And it recommended: “To minimise the risk of age discriminatory practice, an objective assessment of an individual’s circumstances and condition should be undertaken, so that treatment recommendations are not made on age based assumptions.

“Chronological age and performance status alone are poor predictors of cancer treatment tolerance and life expectancy.”

It echoes earlier reports. In October the Royal College of Surgeons found that surgery rates for a range of conditions including breast cancer dropped off sharply among the over-70s.

And in February the Department of Health found there was “evidence that older people do not always receive the same standard of cancer treatment as younger patients”.

Besides judging patients on their overall physical and mental state, Mr Devane said that doctors needed to be specifically trained to treat elderly patients.

The NHS also needed to build bridges with charities and social services to better understand what sometimes stopped people taking up treatment.

Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, said: “It is shocking and wrong to deny people treatment just because of their age, which is why we have made it illegal.

“However, we agree that more still needs to be done to improve treatment for cancer patients over 70 – which is why we worked with Macmillan on this report to understand how to address this.”

Few over-65s feel old but half object to ageism – survey BBC

Dec 18 2013

Only 6% of over-65s describe themselves as “old” and only one in three has given serious thought to the care they might need in future, suggests a poll.

More than 2,000 people aged 65-93 were surveyed by YouGov for a firm providing support services for older people.

Almost half of those questioned (47%) complained of ageism.

Concern about being seen as a burden means older people can sometimes fail to make adequate plans, says Invicta Telecare, which commissioned the poll.

The online survey, carried out last month, found that almost two-thirds (62%) were concerned about being seen as a problem by society.

‘Older mindset’

And one in five of those polled (21%) worried about being thought of as a burden to friends and family as they grew older.

The survey also looked at older people’s attitudes to their age. About 63% agreed that being old was just a mindset and refused to define themselves as old.

More than a third (39%) said they were happier than at any time, and 42% described themselves as “more tolerant”.

But 48% said they thought their generation was “ignored”. More than a third (37%) felt treated disrespectfully because of their age.

About 34% complained the word “old” was derogatory, while 27% disliked the word “elderly” and 30% objected to being described as an “OAP”.

The Queen at 87 and Dame Judi Dench at 78 were hailed as positive role models for their generation.

Some 83% agreed that “older people can still make a huge difference to this country”.

‘Freedom and independence’

Official figures indicate that the number of over-65s in the UK is likely to nearly double to around 19m, or a quarter of the population, by 2050 – up from 10m in 2010.

There were three million people aged over 80 in 2010. This figure is expected to reach eight million by 2050.

Wendy Darling of Invicta Telecare said: “It’s important to tackle the old-fashioned taboos that many are coming up against.

“We all need to be prepared to discuss this subject more openly within our families and make sure people get access to the right information and help for them.

“It’s clear many worry they will lose their identity and be seen as a problem as they grow older so it’s important not to underestimate the support out there which will give full control of your freedom and independence.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “Older people play an incredibly important role in society, and are the lynchpins of many families and communities. They should be able to look forward to a happy and healthy old age, without having to face discrimination or catastrophic care costs.

“We are reforming the care system so that people will finally be able to plan for the care they might need in their later years and we’ve banned age discrimination in health and social care, so there is no room for any assumptions about a person’s age.”

Exploring elderhood at Findhorn Foundation

Apr 26 2013

Rich, expansive, poignant, nurturing and more…

In February 2013, I brought a vision to fruition: co-leading a week-long programme at Findhorn Foundation on elderhood.  My co-facilitator Ineke and I, had high hopes for the week, which were more than fulfilled: a tribute to the quality of our participants, to the magic of this spiritual community, and the great support we received from the community there.

We hoped to explore elderhood on the inner and outer, individual and collective levels, and amply fulfilled this hope.  We dug below the fear and denial so common about ageing and dying, and recognised the gifts and joys of elderhood, as well as the losses.  As one participant said, “When time and energy are limited, and health is variable, it’s an invitation to live wisely, focus on what really matters, enjoy every moment.”

The Community Centre at The Park, Findhorn Foundation

The Community Centre at The Park, Findhorn Foundation

We used a wide range of approaches, including sharings, meditations, solo time, storytelling, sacred dance, and some inspiring sessions with elders’ organisations around Findhorn.  The work of a few Findhorn elders in running the Community Care Circle is especially impressive: includes organising paid and voluntary care for those who need it, building care flats for those whose own home is unsuitable, and providing training and practical advice on many aspects of ageing, including how to receive care. One of the most powerful experiences of the week was when our group joined the weekly Elders Meditation in the main Sanctuary.  There was such power and character in the silent presence of nearly thirty elders, with a combined age around 2000 years.  For me it highlighted a sense that the beauty of elderhood is about the emergence of full, authentic individuality, and its miraculous interweaving with others.Findhorn is a good role model of a community which already includes and supports its elders pretty well.  Our schedule enabled our participants to enjoy this, for example Taize singing every morning, movement classes for oldies, shared meals in the community centre, sacred dance and other shared events in the evenings.It was very satisfying to find that our week helped the whole Findhorn community to recognise and appreciate what it already does to support the elders, and also to recognise and start working on what more could be done.  For example, it would be great if the loving and personal quality of care already provided on a small scale could be expanded more widely, and if this became a role model for mainstream society.  This is one of various ideas which I and others are now exploring.  Perhaps a good summary of the whole week is this comment from one participant, “From this week I have the sense that ‘we have to do something’, and also that ‘all is well’.  I like both feelings.”

The Lost Elders: Who are we? Where’s our voice?

Apr 26 2013

At 21 million, if we’re not a major blessing, we’ll be a major problem!

 Over-fifties are one third of the whole UK population, but this huge group has no collective name, voice, or sense of purpose.  Many of these over-fifties are relatively well-off for time, money, and health, and yet there are major worries on how their pensions and care needs will be funded.

I’m now 64: I’ve found the years since 50 both happy and bewildering.  It’s a time when you need to reinvent yourself, the old maps are no use.  Since 2010, I’ve been exploring elderhood, a concept which could offer identity and purpose to the older generations.  My exploration has included leading groups on elderhood, for men and women, co-founding the Men Beyond 50 Network, and writing Out of the Woods: A Guide to life for men beyond 50 to be published September 2013.

The biggest surprise from these explorations has been the very widespread denial about ageing, the unwillingness to consider the issues.  The best explanation for this that I’ve found comes from a French expert, Olivier de Ladoucette: “people don’t perceive growing old as a progressive process, but as something that ‘attacks’ you around the age of seventy-five or eighty.  Between fifty and seventy-five, we don’t know what is going on”.

I believe that millions of healthy over-fifties feel they’re on borrowed time, in the shadow of a disastrous event, where they can’t control the timing or the effects – the ‘attack’ of real old age, which implies dependency, dementia, care homes, and other unthinkable horrors.

Storytelling: a traditional role of the elders

Storytelling: a traditional role of the elders

The antidote to this fear and denial could be for olders to become elders.  Elderhood is a rich concept with a range of meanings.  For me, elderhood includes:– Having a steady, positive sense of yourself as an older person, which includes facing fears of dependency and dying.

– Choosing an outlook of gratitude and hope, instead of focussing on the losses which are a part of ageing.

– Believing you have a valuable role in society, and fulfilling it: this could be in active ways, or in your wise presence.


– Recognising the collective aspect of elderhood, and helping to create groups of elders for fellowship, wisdom, support, and service.

In a world awash with problems, the elders can be a massive blessing, a power for positive change, if they find their vision, their voice, and their power.  There are flickering signs of such a trend beginning.

Senior cohousing: a much better kind of ageing

Senior cohousing: a much better kind of ageing

As I’ve pondered the over-fifties, I see parallels with an even bigger situation: the huge global challenges of the 2020s.  Most people know what these are, but feel too overwhelmed to look: climate change, food and energy supply, service cuts, economic contraction… Here too, denial is the first huge challenge to overcome.


The scary problems of the 2020s can be a gift.  We could choose to react by moving to a simpler, more localised way of life, where people share more resources and help each other out.  Instead of seeing old age or the future generally as disasters beyond our control, we can face them, shape them, meet them constructively.

And if one-third of the UK population (44% of all adults) led the way in this constructive outlook, the elders would fulfil their potential as a blessing, not a burden.

Tags: Community, Social issues, Ageing, Elderhood

Is elderhood different for men and women? Yes and no!

Jan 14 2013

Elderwoman: book by Marian van Eyk McCain

The question of gender differences in elderhood has been a big one for me as I approach leading a mixed workshop on this theme for the first time, at Findhorn February 23 – March 1.

Marian Van Eyk McCainI’ve discussed the gender question with women and men elders I know, and by reading Elderwoman, and comparing it with my very different, forthcoming book on elderhood for men, Out of the Woods: A Guide to life for men beyond 50

This blog will inevitably offer generalisations, and your comments or corrections are welcome.

It intrigued me, as it may you, to unpick the differences due to the writers, and those due to the subject matter.  I really enjoyed reading Marian’s book, and believe it would be helpful to women: the style and approach are inclusive, conversational, fluid, full of personal anecdote.  All of this could, I believe, make most men impatient: by contrast, my book is more structured, objective, with lots of practical solution-focussed advice.

I’m also struck by frequent references to Marian’s grandmother and daughters, and the sense of female wisdom shared down the generations, in a way I’ve almost never heard among men.  There’s been a lot of poor fathering over the years!

From Elderwoman, I conclude that one of the big gender differences in elderhood is that women face it more collectively.  Men often face the challenges of ageing alone, and need new skills to find the collective support and wisdom they also need.  Marian uses phrases like “the stages of our female lives”, which it’s hard to imagine mirrored in a book for men.

An encouraging parallel, based on these two books, is the potential of all elders to be activists, whether by presence or more actively, around the big issues like sustainability.  Another is the opportunity to “start again from scratch” as she puts it.

Elderwoman is a book which faces the losses of ageing, but within an affirming and practically positive context.  It encourages people to become elders in their own way, and finally loosen the pressures of other people’s expectations, and the consumer society.  I support Marian’s view that the elders are best placed to break the addictive quality of Western Society to its way of life.

Marian sees the most important elderwoman principle as “radical aliveness…the art of saying ‘yes’ to life, remaining fully open to all experience, whether pleasant or painful.”  I’d regard this quality as vital for male elders too.