Latest stories from Pilgrim’s Friend Society
Latest stories from Pilgrim’s Friend Society
Ethnic minorities are better at ‘social care’, and we should learn from them, said Jackie Doyle-Price, the care minister at the Conservative Party Conference recently. (The Times, 4-10-17)She was echoed by Dr Phillip Lee, a GP who is also the justice minister. He told Age UK that British society has become ‘atomised’, and selfish, and ‘quite sick’.*
They both believe that families and neighbours should do more to help their elderly – and that ethnic communities are an example of how it should be done. Hot on the heels of their statements comes a report from Age UK that depression is a huge problem amongst the over 55s, because of a number of issues, including loneliness. The report said that ‘talking therapies’ helped a good deal. Well of course they would! Many people just need someone to talk to.
It’s true that ethnic communities seem to look after their elderly better than we do. (By ‘we’ I mean the collective rest of us.) Last Saturday I was at the Wesleyan Ladies UK retreat with around 60 or so ladies, including a handful who were in their 80s and 90s. It was a huge blessing to see not just the respect, but the depth of affection for the older ladies. It felt so right, so normal, so as it should be. There seems to be a warmth in ethnic communities for their seniors that we seem to have lost in the UK, even here in Wales.
So what’s gone wrong with the rest of us – and how can we put it right?
The care minister thinks that solving the social care crisis would require ‘a culture shift for every individual.’ And the justice minister, Dr Lee, says that, we all need to step up.
Sounds morally right, doesn’t it? But if you listen closely, rather than hearing a real concern for the elderly, you’ll detect the sound of the proverbial brush sweeping the nitty gritty under the carpet. Because being a good neighbour is not the same as providing social care. It’s more than keeping in touch and helping with shopping and building kind relationships.
Social care involves helping with the daily acts of living a frail older person can no longer do – like getting out of bed in the morning, showering, getting dressed and going to the toilet. It often calls for heavy lifting and hoists, something neighbours are not trained to do. And neither are family members.
Here’s something else worth mentioning. Ethnic communities generally have larger families, so the care can be shared by more people, instead of the solitary single carers who are often isolated and desperate for help. A report by Carers UK found that almost a third of long-term carers have not had a day off in five years.
The needs of older people in communities isn’t being overlooked by Christians. They are stepping up to the plate all over the country, and there are growing numbers of churches who are running befriending programmes, with very good effect. (An expert with excellent experience in this will be speaking at a conference we’re currently organising – watch this space!)
Perhaps being overlooked in this flurry is the fact that residential care homes are often the best place for a frail older person. I wrote earlier about the experience of a daughter whose mother developed dementia and who paid an agency to provide domiciliary care. The mother’s dementia worsened, spurred by experiencing 36 different carers over a six month period, some of whom cared so little about getting to know her that they didn’t even know if she preferred tea or coffee. Her daughter found her a place in a care home.
Finding a care home place is getting more and more difficult. ‘Which?’, the consumer group, has published research showing that over a quarter of people looking for a care home place will be unable to find one. Care homes are closing – and the main reason is lack of funding. It costs a lot to train staff and pay them a good wage. At Pilgrims’ Friend Society we appreciate our staff, and we value them more than Dr Lee seems to (see the Telegraph article.)
Jackie Doyle-Price says that older people should be prepared to sell their homes to pay for their care. She doesn’t think ‘it’s fair for the next generation of tax payers to pay for this generation’s long term needs.’ How odd that she doesn’t seem to realise that this generation paid for generations before them, all their working lives! When he took over the presidency of Public Health Institute a few years ago Professor John Ashton said that today’s older generation had been betrayed.
If you are interested in the practical and spiritual aspects of dementia, and are able to come to Garstang on 7th October, do book through our website!
Participants tell us that this workshop is very effective, and is based on a multi-insert dementia information pack that can be taken away for reference. We would love to meet you there!
Usually, I write about older people and the issues that affect them. Today’s blog is slightly different. It’s about mothers – a younger mother and two older mothers, and in a sense for all mothers who’ve found themselves in similar situations. So that you’ll pray for them.
I met the younger Mum near the green Le Creuset shelf in Sainsbury’s. Not the branded Le Creuset, but pots similar in weight and shape. I was looking and wondering how could Le Creuset pots be green? Traditionally, they’re flame coloured. I have one at home that’s brilliant for making stews and bolognese and curries because you can bring it to the bubble and then turn off the heat and it goes on cooking. But I only have the one because it needs a lifting hoist to get it on and off the stove. So, were these really Le Creuset style or were they just shaped like that? I picked up the nearest lid and yes (sacré bleu!) nearly dropped it. They were green Le Creuset style pots alright, on offer at a discount, too.
‘They’ll have to reduce them more than that before they’ll sell,’ said a voice to my right. ‘They’re the wrong colour.’
We began to talk, firstly about the pots and how she uses hers (she makes wonderful lasagne and puts grated carrots in with the meat so the kids will get some vegetables), and why green is the wrong colour. Then, as we turned the corner near the frozen fish she began to tell me how how sad she’d been to find, on returning from years in New Zealand, that people here have changed and aren’t as friendly as they used to be. I was so astonished I could have slipped into the fish cabinet because here in South Wales you only have to smile and you’re into a conversation. But there was a sadness about this lady, whose name is Sally ( I’ve changed a few other facts to protect her identity): the sort of sadness you sense even when the person is laughing.
Long story short – she’d had a tough start to life, but had given her life to Jesus and all went well until she married. Then, she said, ‘My husband took it all away. I just feel empty inside. Just empty.’ Her husband argues that if God existed, children would not die of illness, that He would prevent evils such as the slaughter in Syria, and so on. Sally has three children, a very full life, and her husband has a good job, but she feels empty. (Yes, there is 2 Corinthians 6:14, but how many women do you meet who feel their husband will change once they’re married?)
Of course you feel empty, I explained. Because, as an ancient bishop once prayed, ‘Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.’ God made us in His image, and He is like a magnet to our souls. Ask Him back into your life, I urged. Get an easy to read modern version of the Bible, say, a New Living Translation. Read psalm 139, John 3:16… ‘I could listen to you all day,’ she said. ‘It’s not me – it’s the Holy Spirit drawing you back to Him,’ I told her because, clearly, that’s exactly what He was doing. ‘Come to church on Sunday,’ I added, giving her the church address, ending, ‘I’ll pray for you, Sally. And you, you talk to God.’
Do pray for Sally. We know that God knows exactly who she is. She’s the lady who knows the green Le Creuset pots in Sainsbury’s have to come down in price before they’ll sell. It blesses me that this loving and powerful God, who has numbered every hair on her head, put her next to someone who could talk for the whole of Wales when it comes to knowing Him.
And not forgetting the older mothers. Both are in their early seventies, and loved their ministries for the Lord. One used to delight in cleaning her church and the other (in another, bigger church) used to be a prayer co-ordinator. They’ve both been asked to stand down by their pastors (men in their 30s and 40s) because of their age. Both feel rejected and disenfranchised. Do pray for them and for their pastors, and for others like them.
Sunday 1st October has been designated as the International Day of Older Persons by the United Nations. They would like to see us ‘tapping the talents, contributions, and participation of older persons in society.’[i] It’s part of the UN’s international agenda on ageing, part of a plan aimed at ‘enabling and expanding the contributions of older people in their families, communities and societies at large.’
It’s a terrific opportunity for us, in our churches, to do just that. Why don’t we ask a few of our seniors to take the pulpit and ‘tell out’ what God has done in their lives? Or even, bring an encouraging word? Last Sunday, in my church, an 85-year-old former pastor gave a delightful talk on God’s power to keep us, based on John 10:28. Paul is one of our much-loved elders.
The day almost coincides with the publication of my new book, What’s Age Got To Do With It? In a way, it echoes the United Nations’ theme of involvement and participation, but even more specifically, it encourages older Christians to step into the role God intended for them as part of His life design.
To a secular Professor this is so obvious that’s he’s written an award-winning book about it.[ii] He states, categorically, that older people are meant to be the elders of society; the mentors, the balance-keepers, and the glue that holds us together. And he’s not the only one – many psychologists and commentators are saying the same thing.
Also on 1st October in church, I’ll be describing our new publication for sharing the good news of Jesus with older people in a way that brings them together over a cup of coffee (and a cake or two) to chat and share their views and experiences. One that works with a ‘guided discovery’ approach, similar to our ‘Brain & Soul Boosting for Seniors’ sessions. I’ll be looking for volunteers to run the programme with me and others. My pastor, a vigorous 40-something year old, gives his whole hearted support.
We don’t often get an International Day Of Older Persons, so let’s make the most of it!
[ii] What are Older People For? How Elders Will Save the World,’ William H Thomas, M.D.,2004, WanderWyk & Burnham, MA, USA
‘How are older people empowered by your church?’ we asked people taking part in our survey at New Wine, a few weeks ago. Around 22,000 adults came to New Wine so we weren’t short of participants! (And if any of you are reading this blog – a BIG THANK YOU!)
Older people can be like candles, lighting up the congregation – if they themselves have been lit by encouragement from others.
Are your seniors encouraged to do things for others, or are they seen as a recipient group, needing support themselves? In other words, are they servants, or needing to be served?
‘Do you feel that your church’s seniors are fully engaged in church activities?’ Answers varied from, ‘No, we could think harder about this,’ to ‘Probably not’, to ‘Mostly, but some just come for the companionship, tea and cakes,’ to ‘Yes, very engaged and active’ from a church were some seniors are elders and leaders. Here’s my favourite:
‘[They are] involved in welcoming/hospitality/small prayer groups. They encourage and support younger people, giving guidance, including financial advice. They reach out to others, sharing the wisdom and gifts and insights from the Lord and His Word.’ (My italics.)
Another said, ‘[Older people are] at our heart. All roles within church including pastoral, prayer meeing, except physical lifting.’ Which is absolutely lovely: a reflection of the biblical Levites (Numbers 8:25)!
Some participants said that they would like more younger members, as they now have more older than younger, but rather than neglecting their seniors in a push for the younger, they were being involved in their outreach. It wasn’t a case of seniors having to ‘move out of their comfort zone to accommodate the young’, as one pastor is reported as saying, but seniors encouraged to be involved, having a heart for the work. Most older people would love to see more young folk in their churches. They would also love to be able to help them more – to give financial and other advice, and to listen and pray.
God always intended that His seniors take their place in His church, and in His world. The broadcaster Debbie Thrower, whose work as a lay chaplain for older people in Winchester diocese led to the setting up of the Anna Chaplaincy network sees great opportunities for the Church. “Old age can be an intensely spiritual period of life: I saw my own parents grow spiritually, and I felt that we don’t make the most of this period.” [i]
Often older people are held back because they have a poor view of themselves. They have been ‘infected’ by secular ageism which says old age is when people are past it. Which is totally untrue, of course. God designed old age on purpose. Have a look at the special attributes that seniors have, and how to make the most of them, in What’s Age Got To Do With It? Only 17 days to go to its release!
It used to be thought that the 100 year life was science fiction. Not any more. The number of 100 year olds and people in their 90s is growing, year on year. And they are not in wheelchairs. They are active, in one way or another, writing books, teaching yoga, running marathons, and helping to care for their grandchildren. It’s as a famous science writer observed, ‘The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.’ It begs the question, if you want to live a full, satisfying life, what do you need to do? And – what do you need to avoid?
In other words, how not to be knackered at 90?
Let me explain this word ‘knackered.’ It’s an English colloquial expression described by the Urban dictionary as a ‘word used to describe a person or object that is spent beyond all reasonable use as in “He is only fit for the knacker’s yard”. The knacker’s yard was where injured and worn out horses were taken to be slaughtered. ‘Spent beyond all reasonable use’, ‘worn out to the point of extinction’ is encapsulated in this one word, and I haven’t found another that does the job as well. When I ran it by my pastor he said he knew people who were knackered at forty, never mind ninety.
It’s something you do not want to be, at any age. In What’s age Got To Do With It are people who are ninety and older, but they are not knackered. They may have had arthritis, creaky knees, and some of the various ailments that come with old age, but they are not ‘spent beyond all reasonable use.’ I tell the story of George, totally paralysed, breathing through a tube and unable to move, who did the shopping (via computer), befriended others, encouraged his wife, and helped educate his daughter.
So what is it about them? What did they have, and how can we prepare now, whatever our age, for when we will be ninety?
It’s not to do with physical exercise, although that’s a Good Thing. It isn’t to do with healthy eating, either, although that, too, is also a Good Thing. Other Good Things not to be sniffed at are getting a good night’s sleep; staying socially connected and continually learning new things. The main thing to know about how not to be knackered at ninety is that you need to have a sense of purpose, and be prepared to persevere. George persevered because he wanted to enjoy his family to the last second of his life. The biblical Jacob persevered because he wanted to marry his beloved Rachel.
Perseverance is one of the most important attributes to successful living in old age, or indeed, at any time of life. In business, pundits say it’s the key to success. In his letter to the Christians at Rome Paul reminded them that persevering through difficult times builds character, and that proven character produces hope; ‘and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.’ So the ability to persevere is both a sign of character, and at the same time something that builds character.
It makes all the difference in the world knowing that we are here by design, not by accident. God’s life design includes old age, for a very good reason. Each older person has a distinct purpose in life.
In What’s Age Got to Do With It? are check-points that tell if you are ready for the future – and what to do if you aren’t!
The book will be available from 22nd September through regular retail outlets and our Pilgrims’ Friend Society website www.pilgrimsfriend.org.uk
There’s a story in today’s Times about a son who discovered in the nick of time that his 82-year-old parents were about to hand over £thousands to a rogue tradesman. They stopped it, but the son was dismayed to learn that without his intervention the bank would have gone ahead and completed the transaction.
He was doubly dismayed because the bank,(RBS) knew his parents had been victims of a £275,000 shares scam a few years before.
The son thinks that the bank should have investigated the current deal before allowing the payment, and to an extent, this is what the bank says it would have done. But the bank’s default position is that they will transfer money on a customer’s instructions.
A friend of mine has a job with a complicated title that I can’t remember, but put simply it means he gauges global credit risk and a lot of it has to do with computers and mathematical patterns. I imagine it involves sophisticated algorithms, and clever stuff like that. I know that if I forget to tell the Bank that I’m going overseas I can’t use my card at an ATM without calling them first.
Both these transactions were out of kilter with the patterns of the parents’ regular behaviour, as their usual transactions were small, and the bank would have known that they were both in their 80s. The bank said that they’d checked with their customer and made sure that they wanted to transfer the money, and had received instructions in writing and over the phone.
Part of the problem may be that there are so many transfers these days – 70 million a month, compared with just over 8 million a month ten years ago. And we know that scamming older people is on the rise, as criminals see them as an easy target.
So how to protect them? The consumer group Which has urged the financial regulator to make banks give customers better protection from scammers. Which has advice on its website at which.co.uk/consumer-rights/scams.
Age UK has also called for banks to safeguard elderly people by spotting suspicious activity on their accounts, such as large or unusual payments to unfamiliar recipients. Director Caroline Abrahams says banks are failing in their duty by not protecting them.
HSBC has produced a very good guide, ‘Managing Your Money with Dementia’, which can be downloaded from
The Alzheimer’s Society also has a guide, but the HSBC leaflet is more comprehensive, particularly mentioning fraud and organisations that will help.
But the best protection is a good relationship with family or friends. Things like the tradesman’s big bill would come up naturally in conversation, as would the golden opportunity the shares’ scam would have offered.
A three-fold cord is not easily broken, as the NLT Bible puts it, ‘A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.’ Ecclesiastes 4:12
People who live to very old age are generally the fittest, it’s understood. And according to a study in the Lancet [i] 20 percent of those aged 85 years and older (the fastest growing section of the population) live independently and free from disability. It’s toward the end of their lives that health deteriorates, with men having ‘substantial’ care needs for two to three years, and women for three years.
A separate report carried out for BBC Radio 4’s ‘You and Yours’ programme by property consultants JLL, found that over the next ten years the pressure for more care home beds will rise as the older population swells with 2.5 million more over 65s, calling for an extra 71, 250 care home places by 2025.
The problem is that for the past 15 years only 7,000 new care home places have been made available each year, while for the last three years 21,500 care home places have disappeared as care homes have closed.
The impact will be worst in the north of England and in poorer parts of the country, where people needing care have no savings or assets, and rely on local councils to pay their fees. And here’s the rub – Councils are currently paying an average of £100 a week below the actual cost of care, and providers can’t cope with continuing losses indefinitely. Hence the closures… (We are ever grateful to our supporters and to God for enabling us for over 210 years – the Pilgrims’ Friend Society is truly an example of His grace.)
For some time now the Department of Health has directed Councils to fund people for care in their own homes (domiciliary care), rather than in care homes, even for quite complex cases. Of course, most people would prefer to stay in their own homes, but increasing frailty can be isolating and the effects of loneliness are debilitating.
So it was good to hear about a church befriending programme that is making a difference in the North of England. Two churches are working together. The community worker told me that in her church 20 volunteers came forward when she did a ‘shout out’. Doors are being flung ‘wide open’ by Social Services and other organisations, without the churches obscuring their Christian values, although they’re clear that they are ‘befriending’ and not ‘proselytising’. The work is growing. I’ve asked Beverley (name changed) to let me have more information about the programme, including how it works and how it was set up, so we can share it with other churches. She’s so busy that it’s kind of her to agree, and when we have it we’ll publish it widely. Email if you’d like to hear about it.
Befriending an older person and helping in small ways helps them stay physically and mentally, fitter for longer. Reports show that regular, kind care helps keep them out of A & E units, in the winter time especially.
It’s something to pray about!
It’s something we tend to take for granted in our housing and care homes, the fact that no-one is lonely. It’s often a ‘thank you’ prayer of our residents, that they have good friends amongst others in the home. And of course, our supporters from local churches are regular befrienders.
But for Derek Taylor, left on his own after his wife and daughter died, life was lonely. So he decided to fight it. In an interview with the BBC he said, “I thought, what can I do to stop being lonely?” He’d noted that the older you get, the fewer people come to see you.
He went into coffee shops to have conversations with others and got involved with local community gardening. He did a number of other things, and made a list of them. Here is Taylor’s list that the Manchester City Council put into a handout as part of their Age-Friendly Manchester program:
This footage from Channel 4’s programme, ‘24 hours in A & E’, is touching and heartwarming. It captures the the story of John and Iris. John had to go into the hospital because of some heart problems, but his real concern is the love of his life, his wife Iris. He remembers every detail of their lives together, even their first date back in 1946. Sadly, Iris has dementia, so all the remembering is down to John now. Listening to him makes you realise how precious are their lives. You can see the film clip here: http://www.godvine.com/Husband-s-Love-And-Devotion-For-His-Wife-With-Alzheimer-s-Will-Bring-Anyone-To-Tears-10391.html
But then you read a report showing how callously older people are still being treated in parts of the NHS, and wonder how this can be happening in England in 2017.
600 people who’d had an elderly relative stay in hospital overnight were interviewed by Gransnet and the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. 210 said they had been upset by the treatment their loved ones had received, and half of them said they’d found it difficult to complain. (An often-heard reason is that they’re afraid hospital staff will ‘take it out on’ their relative, afterwards.)
Their statements included patients being forced to wear “adult nappies” because nurses do not have time to attend to the most basic needs; an elderly man forced to call for an ambulance after being left in agony after a fall in his hospital, with a 75 minute wait before doctors attended, and some some being left unwashed for days. One patient had to wait for 5 hours before a qualified doctor confirmed that he’d had a stroke, but now couldn’t be treated because they’d missed ‘the golden hour’. Perhaps the most disturbing were relatives who said their loved ones had been shouted at, and treated like children, or subjected to nurses laughing at their misery. You can read the report here:
I know not all hospitals, and not all nurses are like this. Last year an elderly relative spent some months in hospital, where she was treated with great kindness. At the time I noticed there were organised voluntary visitors to her Ward. When our care home residents go into hospital, often one of the homes’ supporters will visit. Perhaps if the ‘bad’ hospitals knew that their behaviour was going to be more ‘public’ they may change their attitude – because it’s surely attitude that causes indifference and cruelty like this. It could be something that churches’ retired people, who usually have more time than others could do, form a little team of volunteers visiting older people in hospital. Perhaps liaising with the Royal Voluntary Service, that does such good work in hospitals. (See here: https://www.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk/get-help/hospital-support )
Christian providers of respite, residential, nursing and dementia care. Also retirement apartments for assisted living and for extra care housing, and fully equipped houses for missionaries' home leave.
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