Elderly are not just an expensive inconvenience

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Actress Dame Judi Dench has hit out at the treatment of older people in Britain.

Features editor Joni Ager asks – are we showing our elderly people the respect and dignity they deserve?

Dame Judi Dench may not be a typical pensioner, but she spoke for a generation when she said the treatment of elderly people in the country leaves a lot to be desired.

Dame Judi stars in the upcoming film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which is about a group of pensioners who leave Britain for an Indian ‘retirement home’ after seeing an advert.

The actress, who is 77, told the Radio Times: “We are not good at dealing with old age in this country. We shove people in a room and leave them sitting round a television.

“We didn’t do that in our family – shove people into a nursing home.”

She says she and her late husband had his parents and her widowed mother living with them for 12 years.

She said: “It was ideal, and the alternative is not good in my opinion. You learn such a lot from the generation above you.

“My daughter has lovely memories of that time and now talks about her grandparents with great fondness, as do I.”

Her co-star Bill Nighy shared her views.

He said: “The way elderly people are treated, and in some cases warehoused and medicated, rather than nurtured and listened to, is distressing.

“The fact that they pay taxes all of their lives and then are expected to give all of their savings to maintain themselves should they need assistance is absolutely disgraceful and one of the great scandals of our society.”

There are more than 10 million people in the UK who are above the state pension age and the number is increasing every year as life expectancy rises.

But, as Dame Judi suggests, there can be a misplaced perception that the elderly generation is a simply a drain on resources.

Liam Condron, chief executive of Age UK Northamptonshire, said: “It is great to have someone who is clearly not in any way a fuddy-duddy putting the value of ageing on display.

“As a society we are forgetting that elderly people are human beings. They are perceived as an expensive inconvenience.

“We ought to be celebrating the fact that we are living longer and generally living healthier lives. We have been talking about these issues and the potential for there to be a demographic timebomb for 25 years.

“Ageing should be something to celebrate but we are now worried that we have a system that is creaking at the edges and doesn’t seem fair and doesn’t provide dignity and respect.”

The issue of how to care for elderly parents is one most people will have to consider at some time in their lives.

In China, where an eighth of the population are over the age of 60, politicians are even considering legislation that would allow elderly people to go to court to claim their right to be physically and mentally looked after by their children.

But taking in a parent who is not in the best of health is not an easy decision.

Jennifer Caswell, 29, of Rushden, said: “My ex-father-in-law came to live with us when he couldn’t manage any more and I cared for him.

“It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do but I wouldn’t have seen him in a home, purely because he didn’t want that.”

Mr Condron says it is essential that people caring for an elderly relative are given the support they need, which is why Age UK is running a campaign called Care In Crisis to raise awareness of the funding shortfall in social care for the elderly.

He said: “It is absolutely right that we depend on family members to provide care but if you don’t give the family members the support they need, as years go on it will become harder and harder to provide that care.

“We will put so much pressure on people that it’s possible they will start seeing that elderly loved one as a burden and not as a person in their own right.

“We have to make caring for elderly relatives something we are honoured to do.

“There is a need for better financial support for carers and for elderly people themselves who are struggling to remain in their own homes not to put a burden on the NHS or the care system.”

But if residential care is the right option for your family, make sure you do your research before committing to a care home.

“This is often the last move of home that is ever made,” says Mr Condron. “You have to give it some time and research it really well. Look at the reports on the home and go out and see it to get a feel for whether it could be a good home and whether they treat residents as human beings.

“People can always contact Age UK for help and support when making this decision.”