Superstars, Not Bed Blockers!

Returning from a short spell in South Africa I am in awe of the number of older people ignoring the current perceptions that try to define them by their number of years on Earth.
As I wilted in the heat of a queue for the Table Mountain cable car, tired from the overnight flight and simply trying to stay on my feet in the ferocious wind at the top, I was comforted by the grace and good humour of my fellow traveller. Many were well past the flush of early retirement in their late 80s but their capacity to withstand the ardour of an 8 hour wine tasting trip was impressive. If the heat, sun or coach travel didn’t “get you”, then our inability to only “taste” the gorgeous wine in preference for finishing each glass might have been considered punishing for adults of any age. They was no difference in capacity, although jokes about toilet stops suggested more personal management issues.
By any tabloid headline these people should have been blocking beds in hospitals, slowing down queues at busy ATMs or hogging their 6 minutes allocated with GPs, preventing doctors from serving the needy in the community. Instead, I found them very interesting and entertaining, hearing their ambitions for the trip (and the next one after this), while also learning of their families and their own slices of history. These were fabulous people to spend time with!
I accept that most elderly with ailments and financial resourcing issues could not afford either the rigours or the fare from the UK to Cape Town but those that do state quite clearly that we should only ever define someone by their capabilities. In the land still inspired by Mandela this truth rings particularly true to the ear.
But on returning, slumped in a chair in front of the television, the message was amplified as I watched Prunella Scales with her husband Timothy West. Despite acknowledging she was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, Prunella went ahead with filming a TV series Great Canal Journeys, in which her illness is often addressed with humour between the couple who have been married for over 50 years. Although Alzheimer’s develops at different rates for each individual, and is clearly an individual journey for each person affected, her willingness to share her enjoyment of life and how they manage the increasing impact on her capabilities was a reminder to care and enjoy older people for what they bring and can do.
So, as an alternative to the usual warnings about NHS bed management failings and politicians pointing out scapegoats for their failure to manage and prepare our society for the demographic and health advancements predictions of over 50 years ago, let’s celebrate our older superstars for what they bring to our society.

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