Intolerance and Lack of Understanding of People with Dementia
I was driving in a local town and saw an elderly lady who was trying to cross the road. She looked uncertain and seemed a little unsteady. She had not stepped off the sidewalk but the few drivers nearby were obviously aware of her and appeared concerned about her next move. Most were slowing down. Then a young motorist braked sharply, got out of his car, shouted and swore at her before speeding off. The poor woman! It is the sort of incident that the young man will probably not even remember but I bet that lady’s confidence will be badly affected.
Old age can make many people feel less able to cope with situations and change. Our response times slow and our brains do not process information as quickly. Physically we lose strength, become less coordinated and cannot move out of the way of danger as well as we might when we were young. It makes for a feeling of vulnerability. Luckily for the abused woman there was someone who helped her as the young driver sped off.
What will happen when even more of us are old? Healthcare has improved significantly and people are living longer. The ages when people can retire from work are rising as Western economies look at the financial implcations of aging populations. The NIA (National Institute of Aging) reports that globally by 2050 there will 1.5 billion people over the age of 65. It is projected that the elderly population in the US will have increased by 135%.
The G8 summit on dementia is being held in London this week. They will be looking at the economic costs, the implications of how healthcare systems, personal changes in lifestyle and caregiver burden will cope with the projected 135 million people living with dementia by 2050.
It has to start with a greater amount of money and time being put into research for treatments and a greater emphasis on preventative heath measures. But we are also going to have to change the way some of us think about old people. I would suggest that in the Western world we have made youth the prized attribute and prioritized economic productivity at the expense of our weaker and more vulnerable members of society. If we want to live a healthy and productive life for our relatives and ourselves we need to seriously invest in old age, and quickly.