Tag Archives: Ageing

Zimmer frames are the invention of the devil! – #100days100stories

Fear of falling, social invisibility and Zimmer frames. Valerie Lang, 75, discusses the realities of being older and disabled. She shares her story as part of Scope’s 100 days, 100 stories campaign

A portrait of Valerie Lang, 75, smiling.

I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a baby and started to walk unaided when I was six. My walking was inelegant but functional. Unlike many of my class mates, I was spared the horror of callipers. The children who wore them were so terrified of falling over in them that few, if any, learned to walk at school.

As a child, I was fearless. When I did fall, I was small enough to not do any serious damage. I would scramble to my feet and be up again in seconds.

I loved the freedom that walking gave me. I still do.

Help when I needed it

As a young adult, I studied and worked in London. If I fell over in the street, people would always stop and help me up. I’ve fallen in the middle of busy roads, landed in a heap at the top of a tube escalator, and been thrown from the back of route master buses. On each occasion, someone was always there to ask if I was OK.

Today, as an older disabled woman, I have become totally invisible. On the street, people ignore me, walk in front of me… some nearly walk into me, but fortunately they don’t because my mobility scooter would hurt them.

I’ve been on my hands and knees on the pavement clearing up after my dog and people will just walk past. They don’t stop to think why a grey haired old woman is kneeling on the footpath. That didn’t happen 30 years ago.

The bubble society

We live in a ‘bubble society’. So many people on the streets today are on their mobile phones, or in a rush to be somewhere else. It is as if we are all hermetically sealed into our own private little plastic bubble. We don’t have the time or space to think about the people around us.

I also wonder whether people are afraid of doing the wrong thing, and perhaps getting sued. Or it could just be that health and safety has won out and that people are no longer willing to take a risk.
Whatever the reason, it leaves me even more reluctant to walk anywhere unaided.

Fear of falling

As I’ve got older, I’ve learned that confidence matters far more than physical ability. I broke my ankle some years ago, just falling sideways from my own height. That accident shattered my confidence. If I do fall now, I can’t get up by myself. Today, when I leave the house, I’m all too aware of the potential dangers.

Unfortunately confidence cannot be summoned up at will. I have stood at the side of my car, looking at the six foot gap to my garden hand rail, and muttering to myself ‘don’t be an idiot,’ but I can’t take the first step. The fear would cause me to fall.

The art of walking

My mum always believed that if I only concentrated totally on how I was walking, I could learn to walk perfectly. I never did because I am unable to give full attention on placing my feet carefully for more than a few paces. I am much more interested in what I am about to do.

I use a trolley to help me balance and get around when I’m walking. I think that zimmer frames are the invention of the devil. To shackle old people to such clumsy objects is cruel. Turning 90 degrees requires one to pick the wretched thing up and move it round a bit, at least eight times. It is enough to put anyone off trying to walk. As with wheelchairs, anyone dispensing them should be made to use one first, for at least a week.

A step backwards?

I was lucky to be young in the 60s. In spite of the equalities legislation that has come in since, I was walking – albeit unsteadily – in a narrow gap in history when the few disabled people who were out and about, found society to be less judgemental than it may have been through history, and sadly seems to be now.

Find out more about 100 days, 100 stories, and read the rest of the stories so far.

Why did Valerie campaign to change the name of The Spastics Society to Scope?

Who opposes the Assisted Dying Bill?

Scope is against legalising assisted suicide – read three reasons why.

Along with the Prime Minister, disabled activists, doctors, lawyers, older people’s charities and national newspapers, we are opposed to what would be a major change in the law.

Here are some of the reasons why they are opposed to the Assisted Dying Bill: 

Action on Elder Abuse, Mencap, Scope and Veterans Association (Joint Letter to Peers, July 2014)

“An assisted suicide law would for the first time in this country introduce the idea that there are some people whose deaths can actively be brought about; whose suicide, unlike other people’s, society would make no significant effort to prevent and indeed would actually assist.”

Baroness Campbell of Surbiton

“The existing law on assisted suicide rests on a natural frontier. It rests on the principle that we do not involve ourselves in deliberately bringing about the deaths of other people. What the proponents of “assisted dying” want is to replace that clear and bright line with an arbitrary and permeable one. At the moment they say they want assisted suicide for people who are terminally ill, but for how long will that last, and who decides what is terminal? If terminal illness, why not chronic and progressive conditions?

“And, if chronic and progressive conditions, why not seriously disabled people? I am already on the list. Lord Falconer himself conceded three years ago that assisted suicide should not be offered to disabled people “at this point in time”. This sent a shiver down my spine: it is reminiscent of Belgium’s slippery slope.”

Baroness Grey – Thompson

“Why are people worried? It is because many disabled people are not terminally ill. However, many terminally ill people experience some sort of impairment and there is a great deal of confusion around that. There is a myth that our lives are so tragic or painful that we must want to end them. Just this week I was told, “You must have wanted to kill yourself many times in your life”. No, I have not. I have experienced excruciating pain. When I was 19, I snapped a metal rod off my spine that came out through my skin, but I have never considered killing myself. The fact is, however, that many people expected that I would ask for that. What if those people were related to me?”

David Cameron, Prime Minister

“For myself I am not convinced that further steps need to be taken, I worry about legalising euthanasia and people might be being pushed into things that they don’t actually want for themselves…”

The Church of England

“The Church of England cannot support Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill…. Patient safety, protection of the vulnerable and respect for the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship are central to the Church of England’s concerns about any proposal to change the law.”

A Joint Letter from 23 British faith leaders (July 2014)

“The Assisted Dying Bill would allow individuals to participate actively in ending others’ lives, in effect colluding in the judgment that they are of no further value. This is not the way forward for a compassionate and caring society.”

British Medical Association

“Current BMA policy firmly opposes assisted dying for the following key reasons; Permitting assisted dying for some could put vulnerable people at risk of harm; such a change would be contrary to the ethics of clinical practice, as the principal purpose of medicine is to improve patients’ quality of life, not to foreshorten it; legalising assisted dying could weaken society’s prohibition on killing and undermine the safeguards against non-voluntary euthanasia.

“For most patients, effective and high quality palliative care can effectively alleviate distressing symptoms associated with the dying process and allay patients’ fears. Only a minority of people want to end their lives. The rules for the majority should not be changed to accommodate a small group.”

Royal College of General Practitioners

“The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) is to remain opposed to any change in the law on assisted dying.

“[GPs] were against a change in the law for a range of reasons, including that a change in the legislation would… put the most vulnerable in society at risk; would be impossible to implement without the possibility that patients may be in some way coerced into the decision to die; shift the focus away from investing in palliative care and treatments for terminal illness; instigate a ‘slippery slope’ whereby it would only be a matter of time before assisted dying was extended to those who could not consent due to reasons of incapacity and the severely disabled.”

Royal College of Surgeons

“The law as it currently stands should not be changed and no system should be introduced to allow people to be assisted to die.  The College does not recognise any circumstances under which it should be possible for people to be assisted to die.”

As always, we welcome your thoughts on the issue. 

If we don’t look to the future the care crisis is only going to get worse

By 2020 there will be two million more people aged over 65.

Office for National Statistics projections suggest that the population aged over 80 will double by 2030; and, at the younger end of the spectrum, growing numbers of working age adults will be living with disability.

The ageing population, together with increased life expectancy and compressed morbidity more generally will combine to mean one thing: that the population in need of care is bound to expand.

From low level support to round the clock care, in the decades to come more and more citizens will find themselves needing assistance with basic human needs, or will be providing or funding care for others.

Photo of an elderly person's hands
Care Beyond 2020 –  (PDF)

On Monday 31 March Scope and the Future Foundation launch a new report looking at the future of care beyond 2020. It examines the forces that will drive changes in care over the next decade and the implications of these trends for charities, business, governments and citizens themselves.

It identifies many challenges – like how will we fund care for a much larger population of people with care needs? And how will our workplaces adapt to meet the needs of the growing number of employees balancing work with caring for family members at both ends of the age spectrum?

But alongside these difficult questions we also identify opportunities.

The author William Gibson famously said “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed”. Our report gives us glimpses of the future that exist today. Innovations that exist at the margins now can form the basis of new and better ways of meeting the diverse needs of future, more demanding, care consumers and their families.

For example:

  • Super smart homes and networked mobility aids will maximise the independence and wellbeing of disabled and older people in their own homes and beyond them.
  • Services that allow care users to self-monitor their health and wellbeing in real time, adjust medication or care regimes instantly, and where necessary alert care workers, GPs or family members, will increase people’s capacity to do more without continuous human support.
  • And the promise of Big Data means we can expect the onset of many health conditions like stroke or diabetes to become entirely predictable, allowing for targeted preventative interventions.
  • The growth in social media and smart phone usage, especially amongst older people, will allow care users to stay in touch with family and friends, and exercise their consumer power through online peer review communities that publicly rate the quality of care services.

These are just a few of technological and consumer trends explored in the report.

Our world is changing faster than ever. The challenge of funding care is a burning issue now in 2014, and it is right to focus on it. But, a look into the future tells us that the pressures of demographic change will only exacerbate these challenges unless we look ahead and act on what we see.