This week we'll be mostly reading...
The Book About Getting Older (for people who don’t want to talk about it) by Dr Lucy Pollock
This is probably one of the most important books ever written about ageing. It’s a warm, witty, compassionate guide to the ageing process and tackles hard-to-talk about issues head on. Using stories, real life case studies and very accessible language and explanations, it covers everything you need to know about how to have those tricky conversations with wily, stubborn, or sometimes scared, poorly or anxious elderly parents, how to manage declining health and how to decide what really matters in those autumn years to improve quality of life and make it meaningful and full of joy.
The Big Questions
Dr Lucy manages to give a voice to questions we find so hard to ask. Should mum still be driving? How can we make life still fun and independent if she doesn’t? Does dad really need 14 different pills? Who can you ask? And what else could make him feel good? When does fierce independence simply become bad behaviour? We might smile at Grandad’s mulish determination to walk on his own in deep snow to get his newspaper, but is it wise? And how do you stop him without upset? The answers are surprisingly simple, and yet most of us have never thought of them. It’s all about finding the language and an appropriate time and never losing your sense of perspective or humour. Most of us don’t want to think about parents getting older, or indeed ourselves, but Dr Lucy gives very heartening and clever advice.
How to be Amazing
She points out that ageing is a privilege that not everyone gets to do. And there is a lot we can do to age well. But it means being sensible and making adjustments. Keeping fit and healthy and eating vegetables and staying active are obvious, but for the very elderly it’s also attention to detail – making sure spectacles and hearing aids are functioning and up to date, moving dangerous, loose rugs, installing rails, perching on a stool at the sink, moving bedrooms downstairs if possible. Even incontinence is tackled in an upbeat solution-based manner. There’s always something you can do, for every scenario. And, taking action is empowering, rather than just worrying about saying or doing the wrong thing.
Responding to Dementia
There’s a really amazing chapter on dementia which should be made into a full-length book (we’ll keep nagging you, Dr Lucy!) – it doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, but Dr Lucy does make people feel understood and offers empathy and a way to deal with some of the very challenging aspects of the disease, through story telling and lots of detailed real-life case studies that many people will identify with. Everyone’s circumstances are very different and it’s difficult to offer broad-brush advice to thousands of unique situations. But there are common threads running through a lot of people’s experiences and her tips are always based in common sense, calmness and practicality as well as deep understanding. Always try and work with the person’s new reality, she suggests, don’t battle to bring them into yours. Don’t try and ‘improve’ their memory by constantly correcting and reminding. It won’t make much difference and just causes distress. Keep nervous energy and restlessness at bay with lots of tiring tasks – towel folding, gardening, peeling potatoes dusting and sweeping. Lethargy and apathy can be lifted with music or an appropriate TV programme. Calling out repeatedly may mean there’s an underlying problem that can’t be expressed. Do they need the toilet? Are they in pain? Do they need a cuddle and reassurance? She also, very gently points out that even the experts don’t know everything, and it never harms to tell them that their knowledge and advice does not reflect your own experience and hints that you need to be assertive about what is going on, and the help and support that you need. There are some helpful links to studies and prognosis of the disease.