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Being older: Health


Older people are often referred to as ‘geriatrics’ – a demeaning usage which suggests that the only thing that matters is their poor health (we don’t call children ‘paediatrics’).  Certainly, many older people do suffer from a decline in bodily powers – sight, hearing, mobility etc. – while advances in acute medicine mean that more people survive to suffer from degenerative conditions such as heart disease and strokes, arthritis and cancer as well as mental conditions such as dementia and, more commonly, depression.  Some of these conditions are curable; it is important, for example, to exclude treatable depression before concluding that a withdrawn and uncommunicative person is suffering from dementia. But, many conditions will at best be contained rather than cured, and planning for a good death may be an important aspect within long term care. In many cases functional, rather than clinical, assessment may be the most important issue: it is what people can or cannot do for themselves which matters more than how we label it. In disability studies there is now widespread acceptance that a social, rather than medical model of disability is the most important approach to offering support, and the same could be argued for the care of many older people. While labelling with diagnoses may ensure access to some resources, it may also surround people with negative stereotypes: to say that someone is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease is less important than to identify the particular needs and possibilities for an individual person.

Similarly, in later life, issues of death and dying are crucial. Palliative care is of the first importance, as are decisions (and who makes them) about when the focus of care shifts from curative to palliative strategies.  Visit the Timely Topics pages to read more about these issues.

Christians on Ageing is exploring how best it can best be a resource to the Churches on matters affecting the health of older people.



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