Saturday, 23 July 2011
Bitain is a country where old men living in care homes in a 'parallel universe' have a champion in a young gerontologist called Alisoun Milne
Alisoun Milne, 'gerontology academic' and author of a new book on care homes, has said : 'Older people are still invisible in care'.
"Most of us run a long way from contemplating old age because we don't like to think of ourselves, or those close to us as being ill or needing care."
Alisoun became interested in working with older people after spending time on a mental health unit in South London when training to be a social worker. "I remember being horrified by that part of the hospital where the oldest patients were confined," she recalls.
"With a few notable exceptions, the least trained, least motivated staff appeared to have been parked there. It was the least nice building with the shoddiest furniture. I felt very sad and it opened my eyes to the lack of attention that we pay to the elderly – almost as though we'd dismissed them. It made me realise that there's a parallel universe out there and lots of people with extensive needs but no voice."
In 1993, Alisoun moved into academia, having concluded that she was better able to give them old people a voice through research, writing and trying to influence policy.
Does she think there has been much improvement since the late 1980's when units like the one that she had visited began to be closed down?
"It's a mixed picture," she says. "The Alzheimer's Society has been very successful in getting its feet under various desks and tables and society as a whole is more aware of dementia because more has been written about it."
Nonetheless, she feels strongly that there are too many "invisible" people in care. "Care homes are part of the community but don't feel part of it," she says. "Residents could be seen out and about a bit more, as they are in some of the best homes, but that depends on having good staff ratios and well-trained staff."
Things aren't quiet what comedian Matt Lucas would have us believe :