Let’s talk about death, baby*

A not-insignificant part of my week has been taken up discussing the aftermath of loved ones dying.

As part of our continual reassessment of the free advice guides we supply at Age UK, we run focus groups with older people to ensure we’re covering the right topics.

With information about money there’s little room for leeway, but an emotional topic like bereavement often requires more consideration.

Thus, I’ve run two workshops with small groups in both London and Norwich encouraging people to openly discuss their feelings and how they coped after someone close to them died.

Taboo subject

Death is an odd topic. Most of us hate speaking about it. In spite of its inevitability, it’s a ‘big’ issue that either manifests itself in complete avoidance, or else the phrase ‘Oh, you don’t want to talk about that!’

But actually it’s exactly what we should be doing. Not only before we shuffle off – in order to plan and get your affairs straight – but also after the event when those left behind are at their most raw and exposed.

Everyone we spoke to agreed that – no matter how hard it can be – talking about the person who’s died and also your own feelings is the way through it.

Confront – don’t avoid

If you’ve been through a bereavement, one of the most excruciating parts is when you first encounter others after the death and you know they’re worried about you crying and – in many cases – they visibly avoid you.

To some extent that’s natural because many of us haven’t been through a similar experience, but what we really want is for someone just to offer a few words of condolence, ask how you’re feeling and then treat them as normal.

Bereaved people don’t sprout horns or wings – they may just be a little more sensitive than usual.

So the next time someone you know loses a close relative or friend, do the right thing and just talk.
*With apologies to Salt ‘N’ Pepa

Why loneliness is so desperate

Working at Age UK it’s impossible to escape the topic of loneliness.

It affects upwards of 1m older people in the UK and is practically invisible to most of us.

I came across this piece by Judith Shulevitz from 2013 talking about “The Lethality of Loneliness” and – specifically – why loneliness is so damaging:

“Emotional isolation is ranked as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking. A partial list of the physical diseases thought to be caused or exacerbated by loneliness would include Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and even cancer—tumors can metastasize faster in lonely people.”

There are things that can be done, but it’s tough. Lonely people are – by their very nature – hard to find and identify.

– If you want to find out more about the issue or help someone who may be affected head to www.ageuk.org.uk/loneliness

Technology and ageing: Beyond the Screen

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On Thursday evening, I went to a fascinating event at Digital Catapult Brighton called Tech Beyond the Screen: Positive Ageing.

It was to stimulate debate and discussion about how we can use technology in the social care sector to improve both older people’s lives, but also those who do the caring.

The care industry is a hugely underfunded area. People who work as carers either in a care home or visiting older people in their own homes don’t do it for the money: as Eric Kihlstrom from KareInn pointed out, you could get more money flipping burgers at McDonald’s or stacking shelves ar Asda. Continue reading