Old age can creep up on you without you realising

An artist's impression of the new �6m care home being built on the site of the old St James's Health Centre, due to open early 2013.
An artist's impression of the new �6m care home being built on the site of the old St James's Health Centre, due to open early 2013.

My Mum always used to say that there is nothing graceful about growing old. This was put another way by an elderly lady we once met in Harrogate Hospital who said that old age is definitely not for wusses!

If you walk down the ginnel in Wetherby alongside Crossley Street car park, you could be forgiven for disagreeing with that sentiment.

I have been watching the steady growth of the building on the site of the old Medical Centre and what was an allotment when we first came to Wetherby.

A few months ago, the company building it put some wonderful photographs on the blank hoardings. The first thing that struck me was that they only showed ladies and I wondered if it was going to be a home exclusively for the female retired – a few weeks ago, they replaced one of the photographs with one of two exceedingly cheery-looking elderly gentlemen, so it’s obviously going to be a mixed-sex home – although I’m sure the ladies will outnumber the gentlemen.

My husband’s opinion is that we ladies wear the men out and they die early. No comment!

The new home looks absolutely wonderful and the facilities outstanding. Judging by the photos, the furnishings will be superior to those in most of our houses. Lucky people who can afford to make their final home in such a brilliant facility right in the centre of town, for I don’t suppose it will be cheap.

When the plans originally came to Wetherby Town Council, all of the councillors felt that it was a superb location, which would enable residents to feel part of the town.

It set me off thinking about our attitudes in general to the elderly and infirm – and the nearer I get to that time of life, the more terrified I become.

My Mum was in a home for a couple of years and although it was one of the better ones, I used to go in and feel real despair when I saw a dozen elderly and often frail residents all sitting round the wall in the lounge with the TV blaring out in one corner.

When I asked why they couldn’t sit in groups so that those who could talk would find it easier to make conversation, I was told that it was “health and safety”. Poor old health and safety – it really does get blamed for the most ludicrous decisions.

There have been countless outcries in the media about the appalling treatment meted out to elderly people, both in care homes and in hospital. Why? What is wrong with our society when we allow vulnerable people to be treated so badly?

As far as care homes are concerned, I am well aware that the privately-run ones have to be run for a profit, that the staff are often on minimum wage and that it’s probably not the most rewarding of jobs, but does that excuse what is often tantamount to cruelty? Hospitals have even less excuse.

Before my Mum went into a home, she spent some time in hospital following a road accident. We couldn’t understand why she was losing so much weight and then one day, found her meal, uneaten, still on the table at the end of her bed – no-one had thought to help her to eat it and she couldn’t even sit up unaided.

I’m sure many of you will have similar stories to tell – there have certainly been a lot of letters and articles in the press over recent years. And yet, things don’t seem to improve, do they? Perhaps as a society, we have got our priorities wrong – maybe we should look to other cultures like the Chinese where, I understand, the elderly are respected for their wisdom and treated accordingly.

When you’re in your 30s and 40s, you are too preoccupied with children, jobs etc., to worry much about getting old.

The fact that so many younger people don’t do any form of pension planning bears that out – you are so busy concentrating on the present that the future seems far away.

Then one day, it’s there! Your memory is starting to fail, you can’t walk quite as far as you used to – it just all creeps up on you. All you can hope is that, like the very sprightly people on the hoardings in Wetherby, you keep your good health as long as possible.

I see so many elderly people in Wetherby doing all sorts of voluntary work. The local U3A has, I understand, more than 500 members.

One way to keep healthy is to keep active and there is plenty of local evidence that Wetherby residents are taking every opportunity to do just that.

Keep up the good work!