Latest stories from Pilgrim’s Friend Society
Latest stories from Pilgrim’s Friend Society
There are now an estimated 8.8 million adult carers in the UK, up from 6.3 million estimated in the 2011 census. That’s a huge increase in numbers.
They also feel that what they do in life is significantly less worthwhile compared with the rest of the population, with those struggling financially are over a third less likely to feel that the things they do in their life are worthwhile. (Research released for Carers Week 2019).This is despite the vital support they provide their loved ones and their enormous contribution to society.
SO HOW CAN WE HELP? One of the talks my colleagues and I are asked to give in churches and faith groups is how to best support carers like these. And in ‘Worshipping with Dementia’, after consulting with experts (including caregivers themselves) I wrote:
SUPPORTING THE CAREGIVER
The majority of caregivers are elderly spouses. Others are daughters; sons, or other close relatives, and still others are friends. They are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, often only poorly supported by others, including social care. Experts recommend that caregivers arrange respite care for their loved ones, and always bear in mind that nursing, or residential care will be inevitable at some stage. In the meantime, caregivers can seem to disappear from sight, especially of their church fellowships, as they become more and more restricted by the demands of caring. Research shows that the toll is so great that it takes an average of seven years off the lives of caregivers. They need empathy, love, and practical and spiritual support. Here are some things you can do.
Worship helps us to hold ourselves together. In one of his devotional books, Selwyn Hughes, one of Wales’ best-loved preachers, pointed out that in worship we find unity, not just with God but within ourselves.
‘How do we get the framework, the sense of structure we need to be able to move effectively from one day to another, in a
world where everything that seemed to be nailed down is coming apart? It is to be found in our worship of God. We enter
into the presence of the Lord and lo, His unity becomes our unity. ‘
Unity – the integrity of self – is the focus of good care for people with dementia. We see in our care homes how worship contributes to their well-being, from calm when Grace is said at mealtimes, to the devotions taken daily.
For people with dementia, simplicity is paramount. Not the simplicity associated with childishness, but the elegant simplicity delivered
by a good children’s teacher. For people with dementia are not childish: throughout their lives they have learnt and experienced much.
They have gone through the ‘fiery furnace’ and the ‘deep waters’.
Even though the brain that processes thoughts and memories is damaged, the person is still the same person – he or she is an adult, not a child.
(From ‘Worshipping with Dementia’, 2010, Louise Morse, Lion Monarch. )
After watching Panarama’s programme on the social care funding crisis and seeing the terrible toll that it’s taking on vulnerable people struggling to survive day by day, and the social workers trying to help them, I wrote to my MP saying,
‘Did you watch Panarama programme this week? It showed the human tragedies behind closed doors of vulnerable people struggling to cope with inadequate help or support, because of the crisis in social care funding.
Included in that struggle was the compassionate Social Care Team at Somerset Council.
The UK is the world’s 6th richest economy, yet we’re letting vulnerable people suffer by not funding proper care for them.
An analysis by the King’s Fund shows that since 2010, funding has fallen by £700m, allowing for inflation.
Sir Andrew Dilnot answered a BBC question about why government doesn’t do anything about it by saying that it’s not in MPs post boxes – in other words, MPs are not raising it in the House.
This is a little plea to ask you to raise a shout in Parliament. I pay income tax and would be happy to pay the small amount extra that Matt Hancock has proposed.
By not funding social care the government knows full well that the burden on the NHS is increasing, as people are hospitalised after a fall, or when an illness that could have been handled at home becomes a crisis. The Association of Adult Directors of Social Care produced stats showing that social care funding saved the NHS £millions last year.
Please do challenge Parliament on this.’
‘Yes I did, and I totally agree with what you say.
I am looking for an opportunity to raise this, and will let you know when I do.
MPs need to hear from us! When there is more in their post boxes then perhaps deaf ears might be opened in places of power and influence.
No-one watching the Panarama programme on the crisis in social care in Somerset recently could fail to be deeply moved. At a preview screening, the economist Andrew Dilnot, author of the Dilnet Report on Social Care, said he wept.[i] The programme on May 30 was the first of two on the care crisis in local authorities.
Most Councils are under huge financial pressure, with some on the verge of bankruptcy, struggling to meet the needs of a small percentage of their population after years of government under-funding of social care. The Kings Fund, an English health care charity said, ‘‘This is the national picture on social care funding – when you account for inflation we’re spending £700m less than in 2010/11.’[ii] Yet in that same period care needs have doubled, largely because of an ageing population.
In opening its doors to a film crew for 10 months Somerset County Council showed the human tragedies behind the statistics – the daughter caring for her mother with severe dementia, desperate for the smallest respite after the only Day Centre that would take her closed: the profoundly disabled man saying how grateful he was for the care he is being given but that the only way to ease the burden on his wife because his care is ‘too expensive’ was to take his own life, the mother of three so crippled that she needs 24 hour care whose husband is so exhausted that social workers fear he may collapse, and others whose care needs could only be met in part.
Meeting the care needs of 6,500 people in Somerset takes 42% of the Council’s budget of £320 million. Adding children’s services consumes a total of 60%. These are statutory obligations, so other services must be cut – such as libraries, Citizens Advice and road gritting. The care budget must also be cut. Last winter, the government gave Somerset an extra £10m for potholes and only £2 million for care.[iii] During a Council meeting we saw Steve Chandler, the Director of Social Services leave the room to take a call from Westminster, only to return shaking his head and saying that there would be no more money.
We saw Steve Chandler almost in tears as he described the stress he and his team work under as care needs increase, but their budget is cut, yet again. This year it has to be slashed by another £4 million.
MPs not bothered by us.
In a BBC interview before the programme, Andrew Dilnot was asked why, in the face of such a growing human crisis, successive Governments have not provided adequate funding. He said that it was because MPs ‘don’t have it in their postboxes’. In other words, there has been no protest. Sir Andrew recommends an increase in tax, which includes older people to fund a proper level of social care. But Governments shy from increasing income tax in case it sways voters against them.
This is not the way a civilized society should treat its most vulnerable. In an interview on Premier Radio I was asked what churches could do. I said that as Christians we are told to bear one another’s burdens. We are also called to be a voice for the helpless. We can support and befriend caregivers, like those we saw on Panarama. We can be there for them in a multitude of little things – when they need to have the grass cut, or shopping done, or whatever is needed. And we can all email or write to our MPs saying that we support a tax increase to provide a funding stream for social care, and would he or she please bring it to Parliament. Top of Form
[ii] Twitter #socialcare
This evening there’s a Panorama programme at 9.00 o’clock showing how people are suffering because of the collapse of social care funding – both individuals and Local Authorities – Councils.
DO WATCH IT
It looks at a care home in Somerset and talks to the Council. People are in tears. The programme shows the strain and emotional stress on families where social care is needed but the money isn’t available.
(Previously, Age UK revealed that more than 50,000 older people had died waiting for care in a 23 month period, and 636,000 were denied it altogether.)
Sir Andrew Dilnot, author of the study in 2010 that made recommendations to the government that included a cap on what people would have to pay was interviewed on BBC News this morning.
He recommends an increase in tax, INCLUDING older people (but he didn’t say ONLY older people) to fund a proper level of social care. He also pointed out that it is a [relatively] small group of older people who need social care and not a huge amount of money (in the scheme of things.)
The Government’s promised green paper has been delayed again and again, most recently for two years now.
Asked why the Government doesn’t do anything about it, Sir Andrew said he thought it was because it’s not in MPs post boxes! He said carers were too exhausted to complain to their MPs.
As Christians we are told to bear one another’s burdens. We’re also called to be a voice for the helpless. We need to watch this evening’s programme and write to our MPs.
Incidentally, there are other, dreadful stealth cuts happening, where funding is being cut almost at a moment’s notice for people with terminal illness. The Daily Telegraph has reported how the NHS has started slashing its Continuing Health Care funding, (not the same pot as social care funding) where people with a medical condition are funded in care homes in a series of ‘stealth cuts’. “Jean Jarvis, 93, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and is in a wheelchair, has lived in a care home in Purley, Surrey for more than 10 years, with her fees covered by the NHS. But in January 2018 her daughter Gill was told the funding would be withdrawn, with just weeks’ notice, and without her mother even undergoing a face-to-face assessment.”
There are more cases. These are people living with terminal and often crippling diseases.
This week, from May 20 – 26, is Dementia Action Week.
Today the Alzheimer’s Society has a good website home page about it (google Dementia Action Week) with a heading over a photograph that says ‘a child always sees the person inside.’
It’s important, because it’s not always easy to see the person inside. When I first began writing about dementia most people assumed that the person they knew was dying bit by bit, leaving only a shell, which responded automatically but not meaningfully. Which couldn’t be further from the truth! So I wrote my first book, ‘Could it Be Dementia: losing your mind doesn’t mean losing your soul,’ which seemed to hit the spot so well it had three reprints in just a few months. That was in 2008 and the book is still being bought. Since then more and more experts are stating categorically that the person remains.
The challenge is how to reach that person, (that Mum or Dad) and how to enable the person to communicate with us?
Who better to explain that than someone who has been living with dementia for many years and who not only communicates herself, but helps others with the condition to find their voice again, often when they’ve been given up on?
Jennifer Bute was a senior GP in a large Practice and a Fellow of the Royal College of GPs when, 14 years ago, she developed dementia herself. Now living in a dementia inclusive retirement village, she encourages others and often gets them to talk again. She has described how someone with advanced dementia, who normally says very little, suddenly started telling her stories about her childhood that Jennifer hadn’t heard before, after they’d been laughing together. She talks about the the releasing effect of laughter and singing, and how a lady who was stuck, like a gramophone record on the sentence, ‘the peas are green on Saturday,’ returned to lucidity and was able to speak after listening to a Scripture song.
There are ways of getting people to talk, she insists, and she’s described them in the book we wrote together, ‘Dementia from the Inside: a doctor’s personal journey of hope,’ available from our website, https://www.pilgrimsfriend.org.uk/shop/dementia-from-the-inside. (and the usual other places, but when you buy from us you’re helping our work, too!)
The stories are mini case studies. There is so much more in the book. It includes Jennifer’s ‘back story’, which is fascinating in itself, revealing the resilience learnt in tough times and the depth of her relationship with God, but she also speaks as a doctor. She gives practical advice about understanding and helping someone with dementia. Jeremy Hughes, CEO of the Alzheimer’s Society, wrote a commendation saying that everyone should read the book and learn from it.
Perhaps the best action you could do this week is get a copy of the book, either for yourself or for someone you know would benefit from reading it!
Yesterday the World Health Organisation (WHO) published its latest guidelines on risk reduction of cognitive decline and dementia. This morning Dave Piper of Transworld Radio and I talked about it on TWR News. After all, who isn’t interested in reducing their risk of developing dementia?
The new WHO guidelines don’t say anything that we didn’t already know. Taking exercise, having a sensible diet, not smoking, moderate alcohol, treating high blood pressure and so on – all the things that are good for our hearts help reduce the risk of dementia.
Surprisingly, although it mentioned depression (which slows blood flow to the brain) it didn’t mention feelings of loneliness, even though studies show that chronic feelings of loneliness are as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Research by the Centre for Aging at Rush University Chicago showed that it also doubles the risk of dementia: Professor Bob Wilson said the evidence was so strong he thought that pharmaceutical companies should develop a medication for it. In England GPs have begun social prescribing, where instead of pills patients are prescribed some sort of social activity. In Scotland, postmen are trialling a scheme where they knock the door of an older person’s home to chat briefly as they deliver the mail.
So what does work to reduce the risk of dementia?
The Caerphilly Study is still one of the best examples. Involving 2,500 men for 35 years, it showed a reduction in dementia risk of 60%. See https://blog.pilgrimsfriend.org.uk/caerphilly-shows-60-drop-dementia/. Meeting together for regular appraisals gave participants a sense of purpose and were also good social events.
Research that’s beginning to make the news is about people who are termed ‘super-agers’: people who live to their 90s and 100s who are still cognitively bright, and who experience chronic diseases very late in life. There are clusters in five geographical areas. One is Loma Linda in California, and others are Ikaria Greece; Sardinia Italy; Okinawa Japan; and Nicoya Costa Rica. The super-agers live in areas where communities are strong; places where they know they belong. Most are book-readers who like learning and have a sense of curiosity. They tend to live in areas where it’s natural to do a lot of walking. Also, at the centre of their lives is their faith (although this tends to have a peripheral mention) and they had a positive view of life.
Which is interesting because more and more studies show that ‘people who go to church live longer than others’. Dementia isn’t mentioned in the studies, but longevity indicates having better health for longer. Belonging to a church means being part of a supportive community, often with activities that involve moving around, such as helping with refreshments or mums and toddlers, etc. One Study leader thought that in church people are exercising spiritual muscles, which he described as compassionate thinking (missing the point, really!) and another Professor said the evidence was so strong that he thought of going to church himself, even though he wasn’t a believer.
So, to sum up, what does reduce the risk of dementia?
The picture is of Babs and Ron Lintott, taken just before their 81st wedding anniversary. 81 years! Ron was 103 and Babs was 100. Shortly after the picture was taken Babs fell and broke a hip and was taken to hospital where she died almost the next day. Although grieved, Ron told me it wouldn’t be long before he would be with her, although he lived to the age of 106.
Falls are often fatal for frailer older people, so it’s sad to read in today’s press that over 5,000 died as a result of falls in 2017, 70% more than the 3003 in 2010. The figures have been rising steadily. And sadly, the main rise seems to be among older people in deprived areas.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said: “The sad fact is that older people who live in poorer areas often have more complex health needs and poorer access to health, care and also community services that can help people remain active and help resilience.’*
It’s also difficult to get help from social care. Age UK’s research showed that in the 23 months from the Chancellor’s promise of a new Green Paper for Social Care, 636,00 people were denied funding, and 54,000 older people died waiting for it to turn up.
Last week MP Damien Green, who is drafting the Green Paper, suggested that people over the age of 50 should pay an increase of 1% in their National Insurance contribution to help fund social care. But this ignores two rather inconvenient facts: as longevity increases younger people are likely to reach old age themselves, so why wait until the age of 50 to start contributing? Today’s pensioners paid into their national insurance all their working lives. Also, the older generation is already contributing around £50 billion to the economy, in terms of taxes, earnings, spending and voluntary work, found research by independent economist firm, SQW published by the RVS .
Dr Anna Dixon, Chief Executive, Centre for Ageing Better said, ‘Britain urgently needs policies that work for people of all ages and which tackle the challenges brought about by increasing socioeconomic and health inequalities. Many young people are struggling on low wages at the same time as pensioner poverty is increasing for the first time in a decade. This is not about old versus young, it’s about creating a society where everyone regardless of income or background can enjoy every stage of life.’
She calls for Local Authorities to commit to becoming age-friendly communities, and invest in community-based activities that bring generations together. ‘We must put an end to age-segregation and eliminate ageism in our society.’
Many volunteers in churches befriending the elderly in their communities are pensioners themselves. A deeply held Christian belief is that we should ‘bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.’ (Galatians 6:2.) I’ve met many churches and their volunteers, and believe we all need to pray for blessing on their work. Also, we are told to pray for those in government, that their decisions may not simply be expedient, but may be godly.
A number of studies have shown that people who go to church tend to live significantly longer than those who don’t. And, according to the lead scientist who led one of the studies, it isn’t simply because church goers have more social support, but because worshippers are flexing spiritual muscles.
A study in two American States surveyed 5,449 people with 64 per cent being regular worshippers. It was led by Professor Marino Bruce, a social and behavioural scientist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and Keith Norris, professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).
The study found that men and women aged 40 to 65 years old, who attend church or other places of worship reduce their risk for mortality by 55 per cent. The effects remained after education, poverty, health insurance and social support status were all taken into account.
Professor Bruce said. “We found that they go to church for factors beyond social support. That’s where we begin to think about this idea of compassionate thinking, that we’re trying to improve the lives of others as well as being connected to a body larger than ourselves.’ [i] He added that, ‘being in a place where individuals could flex those spiritual muscles is actually beneficial for your health.’
‘Compassionate thinking’ is a practice in cognitive behavioural therapy. Studies have shown that it helps individuals banish unhelpful, negative thinking, and that repeated compassionate thinking helped establish a healthier view of themselves and their lives.[ii] Once again, secular researchers have stumbled across a biblical truth that’s been there all the time. ‘Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you,’ says Ephesians 5:32.
But going to church is not a kind of spiritual gym. The Professor seems to have missed the point. Yes, being in church is about fellowship, but the connection is not just with the people who are there – it’s with the One who drew them there in the first place. Selwyn Hughes, founder of Crusade for World Revival, and author of the popular ‘Every Day with Jesus’ booklets, summed it up when he wrote,
‘How do we get the framework, the sense of structure we need to be able to move effectively from one day to another, in a world where everything that seemed to be nailed down is coming apart? It is to be found in our worship of God. We enter into the presence of the Lord and lo, His unity becomes our unity.’
Church is so much more than a spiritual workout.
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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