We are all living longer and the pensionable age is increasing as a result. In 2016, the population of the UK was 65.6 million with the projection that it will grow to 74 million by 2039. Like many other countries, the UK is getting older with 18% of the population aged over 65 and 2.4% over 85 years of age. (Office for National Statistics)
Living to a ripe old age is great if you have the health and happiness to enjoy your ageing years. However the reality can be very different for many people with so many experiencing social isolation, ill health, poverty and caring responsibilities. There is increasing evidence of the impact of loneliness on our health and recent research has shown that loneliness and social isolation can be as harmful to health as smoking (Holt-Lundstad 2015). The importance of feeling valued, connected and being part of a family, community and network of friends, in relation to mortality was recognised by Sir Michael Marmot in 2010. We do not however, need to look to formal research to know how important feeling loved, connected and valued is.
My father in law Terry, is 82 and until recently had 4 four allotments growing a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. This activity was good for him physically and mentally. He enjoyed lots of social interaction, was very physically active, grew lovely healthy produce which friends and family benefited from. He was enjoying a happy and healthy retirement full of activity and fulfilment.
Sadly, the story today is very different, as Terry cares for his wife of over 60 years round the clock due to her multiple illnesses. He is unwavering in his dedication and care of her. Unsurprisingly his health and wellbeing is being significantly affected. He has given up all but one of his allotments and is considering giving this up too.
Why – he cannot do everything… he is worn out. But if he were to be able to continue with one allotment it would be better for his health and mental wellbeing. Yet this is looking increasingly unlikely.
Regrettably, my husband and I live over 500 miles from my in-laws and therefore practical help is limited. If I could wave a magic wand the following would be in place tomorrow:
- Carers to come in twice a day to help Terry so that he can go to the allotment and be active and do what he loves which will help to keep him healthyand able to continue caring for his wife.
- Volunteers to pick and enjoy the fruit and vegetables so his efforts are not wasted. He is naturally very upset when he cannot pick all the produce and it rots on the bush. Summer fruits are growing in abundance now and the freezer is full!
- For him to feel valued for what the does for his wifeand to recognise that his needs and health are just as important.
If he was not caring 24/7 the state would have to pay for the care. He is a proud man and taking help does not come easily which is the same for many others. However there must be a way to help our ageing population with dignity and innovation to allow them to feel valued and purposeful.
This blog is dedicated to Terry, my father-in-law, a hardworking, proud, caring man who loves his tatties, just like me hence the title!
References and Useful Resources
Holt-Lunstad J, TB, Layton JB. 2010. Social relationships and mortality risk: a meta-analytic review. PLoS Medicine 7 (7) http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1000316
Overview of the UK Population – July 2017. Office For National Statistics. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates/articles/overviewoftheukpopulation/july2017
Campaign to end Loneliness https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/threat-to-health/