I would like to think that one of the results of the current epidemic is that we will have a  better idea of how to cope if another one hits us. We need to know how it started, learn how to recognise it and know how to go into immediate lockdown, particularly with respect to overseas travellers who seem to be the biggest facilitators of the spread.

One area which particularly indicated lack of knowledge in the current situation was the response towards people in aged care by the people running these institutions. Some of them showed understanding of the problems but in other cases behaviour amounted to lack of understanding of ageing and in some cases actual cruelty.

The situation made me aware that we haven’t made much progress in understanding ageing even though it happens to all of us. Worse still we don’t seem to know that we don’t know! My first understanding of the situation was reading many years ago about hunter gatherer societies which had to make their older people as comfortable as possible with food and water and then leave them if they couldn’t keep up. I could see the tribe’s dilemma but was horrified by the cruelty. I’m not sure that some aged care providers behaved much better recently, without excuse, when they cut off all visits by relatives and friends, particularly when these visitors were helping with feeding etc. They were basically being asked to leave their loved ones and move on.

Two problems seem to be seen here. Firstly we live in a democracy, not a dictatorship. Shouldn’t the residents, where appropriate, and the families and friends, have been allowed to vote on it rather than enforcing these rules without consultation? Who has ownership of our lives when we are old? Secondly, what qualifications are the people making the decisions required to have in this speciality field? There is no excuse for people choosing this area of work, and in a senior position, yet not being required to be qualified, when so many University courses are offered on line and can be accessed so easily.

The behaviours referred to above suggest a lack of understanding of what it is like to age and how it changes our priorities. I believe that the average length of stay in residential aged care is just over 2 years, with people with dementia being on the lower end of stay figures. This latter group have suffered the most under these draconian rules with family members reporting that if they were able to see them through windows they could see the physical deterioration. I suspect the carers may have been suffering a similar fate through the distress of the separation. Is this very different from the distress of our hunter gatherer forefathers who had no choice?

I hope that if we ever have to go through another epidemic or similar the knowledge of ageing by those running age care facilities will be more professional. In particular, I hope that they will be aware that older people in care have a very different view of death. It is not something which will happen in the distant future which we can worry about later, but rather something on our near horizon. Every day is precious, as are our family and friends who are likely to help to fill those days with love, and all the other joys of life. It shouldn’t be taken from us by people making a profit out of our situation, who are not required to have any knowledge of what it is like to walk in our shoes, with or without a walker.