Does getting old have to mean a loss of autonomy? Phil Wells writes for TOYL.
Having two mums living through the period of their lives when they could no longer manage in their own homes, I have become more personally aware of the limited choices they faced – and the even more limited opportunity to be themselves once they made that difficult move.
Prior to this, I had worked at a local Age UK (Age Concern) developing and implementing a new strategy to enable people to remain independent for as long as possible through community support and social connections. This was inspiring stuff and I still think it is vital work. But I felt, as many do, that ‘moving into care’ was the only answer for the later stages of life.
But having someone close to you having to make that move looks very different. In both cases, our mums were keen not to be a burden on the family – and to retain the relationships they’d always had, rather than the ‘carer – cared-for’ arrangement we were drifting into. And that succeeded, with the practical necessities of life taken care of by others, we could do the ‘nice bits’ like Scrabble or long chats..
But at what cost?
The reality is that, once someone’s care needs become significant, they begin to disappear as a person.
We all need a number of things in order to maintain our sense of self:
- We need to make a contribution (how many times has an older person been told ‘you’ve done your bit, now’s the time to let others do it for you’?)
- We need to be able to make choices about how we live (many older people lose part of themselves when they can no longer keep a pet)
- We need to maintain connections to our community (with the best will in the world, most care homes are ghettos)
But it seems to be an inevitability that, once an institution is responsible for our care, every other aspect of our life begins to fade away. When you get up, when and what you eat, who with and all restricted. What pets you care for, where you go, what activities you try are all constrained by a focus on risk (at 97, the risk of injury and death is no longer quite such an issue!)
We badly need some new ideas – practically demonstrated ideas – about how we can live increasingly long lives whilst still being able to make choices – which means making the judgements about risk and benefit – and feel a sense of autonomy and purpose. There are some great ideas out there, but translating them into action, and then into services and support available to real older people, takes time and money.
With government finances likely to be precarious for years to come and commercial lending focusing on short term returns rather than long term social benefit, a group of us have spent the past couple of years developing an entirely new approach. A Co-op whose members’ funds are invested in some innovative projects that hold the potential to transform the way later life pans out in the next few years. We have succeeded in getting registration as a co-op and developed a business plan which we hope will generate tens of millions of capital as a revolving loan fund to support innovation. We called it InvestAge – investing in Age!
But of course it all depends on ordinary people joining the co-op and investing some of their savings (as returnable shares). In return for this, we promise a small interest payment (it’s not about getting rich!) but more importantly your funds will join with thousands of others to make a big difference to later life in the coming years.
So if you are an older person contemplating your future, or someone with parents already at that stage – or if you intend to be old one day! – do check out Invest Age Co-Op and consider joining the movement. The minimum investment is £100, so it really is open to most people.
InvestAge is a new action and investment co-operative that helps support ventures that improve the lives of the older people of today – and tomorrow.
InvestAge wants to see a world where people live with greater autonomy in later life. We believe that creating a better old age for all is in everybody’s best interest.
We are a movement for social change – a co-operative for those who want to pool resources and share the challenges of ageing
(Full transparency: I am a board member of InvestAge (unpaid). I am also, at 64, very keen to get this ageing thing sorted!)
“My experience at Age UK Norwich showed me clearly that ‘patient finance’ is a barrier to establishing projects that can make a difference to later life. InvestAge is a great opportunity to make a better future.”
Phil taught and worked at the Natural History Museum then moved to the third sector managing the charitable arm of Traidcraft, going on write The Global Consumer – a guide to the human impact of consumer products – before joining the Fairtrade Foundation, leading it as Director through its first 9 years of rapid growth and achievement. At a more local level, he has served as CEO of Age UK Norwich, steering it through the local government cuts and restructuring of the health service to a position of some security with a range of income sources and public sector and private sector partners. Most recently, Phil has worked for Business in the Community as an adviser to member companies in developing and implementing strategies to achieve core business objectives through Corporate Responsibility.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TOYL.