Counselling for the elderly
"Death is not the real enemy, it's ageing and disabilities that we should be fighting" (Guy Brown). Death, dying and dementia are nowhere on the agenda, how many elderly people are often neglected, and don't really have a chance to say how they are feeling, or what has gone on for them during their lives.
A quote from the Therapy magazine "older, wiser and unlikely to present, if we are to understand how elderly people might use a counselling process, we need to hear their opinions" Despite what their conversation reveals in terms of serious issues, many do not acknowledge a need for mental health support.
One area to look at is the profitability of Pharmaceutical companies developing drugs to keep people alive but uncured; curing disease could lose their customer. There seems to be an emphasis on preventing death and a failure to tackle ageing.
We now have a National Health System framework for old people which specifies the promotion of mental health and psychological care. Yet things have been slow to develop in some NHS trusts. There are no ring fenced funds to deal with the number of suicides among elderly people, which is half the yearly total, nor the one person in six who develops depression after the age of 65.
Ageing is an artefact of life. When wild animals become ill or maimed they die because they can't feed themselves. In humans, where once a heart attack, stroke or organ failure would probably have killed a person, to-day many of these conditions can be treated with the possibility of extending life. Sadly, often that extension of life has debilitating consequences.
Older people have many degenerative diseases to deal with such as arthritis, rheumatism, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart failure, strokes. Along with all the physical pain and debilitating illness, there is also the mental pain and loss in people's lives. Elderly people may feel worthless, inadequate, fearful, and vulnerable. There can be many losses in their lives, such as family, friends, jobs, houses, and independence. Is it any wonder that 1 in 6 of us will suffer depression after the age of 65?
People are generally living longer, which does not necessarily equate to quality of life, this may lead to more suicides and assisted deaths. There was an article in Dignity in Dying News a while ago about Debbie fighting for legal clarity to protect her husband from prosecution. There are of course many people going to Sweden for an assisted death, and this could become a much bigger part of our future, and hence a huge need for counselling, both for the people wishing to take their lives, and the ones left behind.
Whatever science comes up with over the next few decades in terms of further organ repair and replacement, and however our diets are improved and we take more exercise and generally look after our bodies, there will still be debilitating illness, depression, anxiety and loneliness to deal with in old age. There is a fine line between living and existing, between quality and quantity of life. And whether a person chooses to live with whatever life delivers them or whether they choose (if possible) to end that life, there will be a need for counselling.
Counsellors working in this area of therapy will need to look at practical issues like flexible venues and times between sessions and safety issues around home visits. The possibility of travelling with and being with a client at the termination of their life, and trying to link in with other services, so that clients get a holistic package. Everyone deserves be given the chance to be heard and not just passed off as an old age pensioner, who may have problems, but “that’s part of life”.
The smell of a daisy
The cry of a newborn
The taste of a fine wine
The warmth of Love
The old contain all these experiences
Listen to their song.
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