Latest stories from Pilgrim’s Friend Society
Latest stories from Pilgrim’s Friend Society
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 )
Last month, a small, 86 year old woman preached the Gospel to over a million people in Lahore. Marilyn Hickey made such an impact that it came to the notice of even the main stream media. American CBS TV sent a reporter to Pakistan and has aired a newscast – see at the link below – http://www.cbsnews.com/news/cbsn-on-assignment-evangelist-marilyn-hickey-mission-muslim-world/)
Marilyn says she has no intention of slowing down. ‘She is widely considered as the “Mom of Pakistan,’ reported a Christian magazine, ‘and has been granted incredible favour within the Muslim community. Many Imams consider her one of their closest confidents. She says that terrorists think she’s a stupid old woman, so they largely leave her alone and let her peach the gospel. She’s praying for more opportunities to meet with Imams in other Muslim-dominated countries.’ Read it at the link below –
Marilyn felt called to reach Muslim countries in 1995, particularly Pakistan. Five years ago, at the age of 81, 2330,00 people came to here her preach.
‘This is how I take retirement,’ she said, ‘Retirement is doing what you like. So this is what I like. I like to do this. It doesn’t make you idle. It makes you supernatural.”
It seems to be an example of God’s special purpose for Marilyn at this precise age. A younger woman in Pakistan probably wouldn’t be allowed to take such a prominent, public role. It certainly suits her – better than Saga holidays any time!
It’s such a sad question. ‘How can I communicate with my father, who doesn’t know who I am any more and just sits there, in his own world?’ asked a daughter, whose father had dementia. She wondered if it was worth going to visit him in the care home any more.
There are practical and spiritual responses to this question. A practical response involves knowing the person well enough to know what was dear to him before he became ill and what his hobbies were. For example, David had loved his dogs and going fishing, so a good idea would be to take in photographs of his dog, or perhaps a little model of a similar type dog, or a magazine about dogs, and sit alongside him showing them to him, talking in a relaxed manner about them. It’s a kind of relaxed burbling, with pauses so he can respond. It’s a bit like fishing from a bridge – throwing out a hook and seeing if it catches. It’s described in our booklet, Visting Someone With Dementia, available from our website.
Also, as Christians we are we are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is the most powerful communicator in the universe. Deep calls to deep, the Scripture says (Psalm 42:7). ‘Only a call from the depths can provoke a response from the depths, ’Watchman Nee wrote,‘ nothing shallow cannot ever touch the depths, nor can anything superficial touch the inward parts Only the deep will respond to the deep. Anything that does not issue from the depths cannot touch the depths.’[i]
So when we visit people with dementia who have lost the ability to communicate, who have withdrawn into their own inner world, we have the power of ‘simply being’ alongside, knowing that we are carrying the Holy Spirit within us. We can sing a spiritual song or an old hymn; we can read the Scriptures, and we can pray. When we do this we are connecting at an eternal level. We often see ‘silent’ residents in our care homes join in a verse, face alight in worship. In one of our care homes, Lilly, a resident with dementia wouldn’t settle down for the night, so the manager called her friend Betty, another resident, to come and pray with her. Betty was astonished when Lilly prayed for an issue that Betty had kept secret, that absolutely no-one knew about.
Whether or not the person responds, whether or not he knows who you are, if you go with love you will give comfort, even though you may not see it. Christine Bryden, who was diagnosed with dementia over 22 years ago gave a talk at an international conference where she said:
‘‘As I lose an identity in the world around me, which is so anxious to define me by what I do and say, rather than who I am,
I can seek an identity by simply being me, a person created in the image of God.
My spiritual self is reflected in the divine and given meaning as a transcendent being …
As I travel toward the dissolution of myself, my personality, my very ‘essence’,
my relationship with God needs increasing support from you,
my other in the body of Christ.
Don’t abandon me at any stage, for the Holy Spirit connects us. …
I need you to minister to me, to sing with me,
pray with me, to be my memory for me …
You play a vital role in relating to the soul within me,
connecting at this eternal level.
Sing alongside me, touch me, pray with me, and reassure me of your presence,
and through you, of Christ’s presence.
I need you to be the Christ-light for me,
to affirm my identity and walk alongside me’.
Every year it’s the same: New Wine, in Shepton Mallet is a little touch of Heaven. The crowds, the companionship, the Christian fellowship and comraderie … it’s so refreshing and re-energising. That’s why it works so well. When they pack their tents and load their cars at the end of their stay, everyone feels fitter for the rest of their pilgrimage.
Again this year we have an information stand in the Market Place. Actually, it would be good if we could have a simple sitting area with comfortable chairs and cups of tea and little tea cakes. Dads and Mums, Granddads and Grandmas, daughters and sons come to us for information on every aspect of old age you can think of – which is very sensible when you think we have 210 years of experience to draw from! We’re the only Christian charity offering practical and spiritual help for older people. It’s good to chat, but we also have to display our books and other publications, so we have the traditional stand. This year there’s also news of a new book coming out in September – called What’s Age Got To Do With It?
Here’s a picture of Janet Jacob, taken on the first day. Many of you will know Janet already: she’s one of our most appreciated speakers and trainers. Taking the photograph is Peter. Next week it will be me – Louise, and Fran Waddams. (You may remember us from last year!)
Do call and say hello!
No cure for dementia, so let’s work to prevent it.
It was ‘plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose’ at this year’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London. Or as Solomon observed, ‘there is nothing new under the sun.’ There’s no cure for dementia and the causes are still largely unknown, so the move now is towards finding ways of preventing it. A big metastudy by experts on ageing based at University College London, came up with a plan that would help to do exactly that. You can read it here – (risk factors).
For the first time researchers identified mid-life hearing loss as one of the worst because it places a ‘significant compensatory burden’ on the brain and can cause it to shrink, but also because it raises the risk of social isolation, leading to feelings of loneliness and depression. Negative emotions like these are usually only glancingly noted, but here they’re included on the ‘risk list’. Feelings of loneliness double the chances of developing dementia, and depression slows blood flow to the brain. Chronic stress is also a known danger, prompting an inflammatory response.
The conference coincided with the publication by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health earlier this week showing that traumatic life events increase risk. Twenty-seven examples were listed, ranging from having to repeat a year of school, to the death of a parent or a sibling, or having an unfaithful spouse or partner. The effect is cumulative, with more events accelerating an ageing process and the risk of dementia. It’s good that more attention is being paid to the effects of damaging emotions. I’ve often referred to the late Professor Tom Kitwood, the clinical psychologist who’s seminal work, Dementia Reconsidered, changed the whole paradigm of dementia. He suggested that the progression of dementia was due to a ‘malign social pathology’, in other words, the body of sin in the world. He didn’t use the word ‘sin’, but described the evil of unkindness in our society. He said that every interaction was a ‘neuronal event’.
The good news is that the rate of new cases of dementia, the incidence, has dropped by 20% in the last two decades. However, there will still be an increase amongst the 80-year-olds and up because this is when the likelihood of dementia is higher. And, thinking of the Wisconsin study, could it be that this older generation has been affected by the trauma of World War II with those years of fear and the loss of so many loved ones? When coping meant keeping a stiff upper lip?
Perhaps Christians should add another preventative to their plan. ‘Above everything else, guard your heart; for it is the source of life’s consequences,’ says Proverbs 4:23 (CJB). I wonder – how do you guard yours?
You’ll find more information about research and practical ways of ‘guarding your heart’ in the books, ‘Could it be Dementia? Losing your mind doesn’t mean losing your soul,’ and ‘Dementia: Pathways to Hope’. They’re both available on Amazon, etc., and through our website.
A report by the Institute of Health Equity at University College London showed that although we can expect to live longer, the line on the graph isn’t rising as fast as it used to. Before 2010, average life expectancy at birth in the UK for women was increasing by one year every five years. Now it is one year every ten years. For men it was increasing at a faster pace of an extra one year every three and a half years. Now it is one year for every six years. The report was initiated by Sir Michael Marmot, director of the Institute, and his comments came as no surprise.
Death rates have been rising amongst people aged 80 year and older since 2010. Last year showed the biggest spike for almost fifty years – a 5% increase in mortality rates in just one year, and the highest since World War Two. Most were among elderly women.
I wonder if , in our fragmenting society, we’re seeing an increase of death-by-loneliness?
Sir Michael Marmot implied that there was a link between “miserly” levels of spending on health and social care in recent years, at a time of rising health need linked to the ageing population. He said it had affected the amount and quality of care older people receive. Councils have closed Day Centres, and the meals on wheels services that brought human contact into solitary lives have been abandoned.
Age UK estimates that for over 4 million people, television is their only companion. Feelings of loneliness increase the risk of dementia and can lead to an early death.
The best antitode to feelings of loneliness is a sense of belonging, of being part of someone’s ‘bundle of the living’, as Samuel puts it (1 Samuel 25:29). God designed people to be alongside one another; to care for one another. Most reading this blog will be part of a family, a circle of friends, and probably, to a church. It’s good to hear about churches reaching out to the lonely around them.
In the current issue of the Pilgrims’ Magazine there’s news of a ‘Neighbourhood Chaplain’ programme, that has been tried and tested in Bedfordshire. It offers training and support in reaching out to local communities.
It’s a terrible indictment that in one of the most advanced and richest countries in the world, old people can die of loneliness.
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.
We share our experience and knowledge at seminars and conferences, at national and regional level.