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Older people 'dying lonely and ignored'

OLDER PEOPLE, living in difficulty at the end of their days, do not conform to the Government's model of "successful ageing", says Help the Aged. Instead, they are "the disadvantaged dying", ending their days frustrated and ignored, argues the charity's new report, Dying in Older Age.

The report says that the care given to older people as they approach death is often inadequate, badly planned, and unimaginative. They are caught by a bureaucracy that seems incapable of understanding their needs and responding appropriately. Dying is "incompatible" with the Government's priority of "living well" until the end of life. The result is that society minimises old people's problems and needs.

Unlike the care offered to younger people who are dying, older people are not given enough psychological or medical support, or palliative care. Their symptoms are often not recognised, and their care is not planned to prevent further illnesses. They are also likely to experience social isolation and economic hardship. The result is that old people often die an unnecessarily hard death, the report suggests.

In the text, seven old people describe their thoughts about dying. Jean Buzan, an 88-year-old former gerontologist from Marlow, says: "My fear is really taking a long, helpless and especially painful time actually to die."

George Fullwood, a 69-year-old retired engineer from Sheffield, says that when he went to a coronary care unit, the doctor asked if he wanted to be resuscitated if he fell unconscious, "as if he was asking if I wanted milk in my tea".

Dorothy Runnicles, aged 79, from Cambridge, says that: "Only the church workers faced up to the reality of death itself, and attempted to give comfort, emotional and spiritual help."

Making more than 30 recommendations to the Government, the professions, and care agencies, the report calls for care for older adults at the end of their life to be seen as an urgent public-health issue. It wants social workers and health carers to have more training in this area, and greater knowledge of palliative and geriatric medicine. It also recommends getting more feedback from old people themselves.

Dying in Older Age: Reflections and experiences from an older person's perspective, £6 incl. postage, from Help the Aged Publishing, 207-221 Pentonville Rd, London N1 9UZ. www.helptheaged.org.uk.

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