Is the fear of old age justified?

By Nina Steele 

The decision by Gill Pharaoh, the 75 year old retired palliative care nurse, to end her life in an assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland, has reignited the debate about old age (to be honest, I don’t think it has ever gone way, only that the talk is generally either about the cost of care or the rise in dementia cases).

The fact that Gill was relatively healthy and not known to be suffering from any major illness, makes her decision to end her life, difficult for some to understand. As a former palliative care nurse, she argued that the old age she saw was far from pretty (she called it “awful”), and she didn’t want to become a burden to her children.

I work for an old people’s charity and have done so for almost 8 years now, and totally understand many of the points she made. Unfortunately, although people are living longer, many are doing so with poor health, significantly affecting their quality of life.

According to Age UK, the leading charity for old people, 40% of all old people in the UK, who are aged 65 and over, have a limiting longstanding illness. That is quite a significant number of people.

In light of the statistics and my personal experience, do I fear old age? The answer is no. I do sometimes wonder what my own fate will be like, however, I don’t stay up at night worrying about it. What I do understand, based on my experience of working with old people, is that the choices we make while we are young, will in many cases, determine how well we age. If for example, you live a life of excess, your chances of developing a limiting longstanding illness in later life, are likely to be greater than those of someone who did everything in moderation.

My main concern about old age, is to be able to save enough money to afford the support I may need. For example help with chores around the home and who knows, I may end up needing help with personal care as well. I also hope to be well enough to stay in my own home, as opposed to having to end my days in a care home. Being childless also means that my husband and I often have discussions about who we can trust with our affairs in old age, particularly when one of us dies.

Old age is a natural transition for all of us and as such, I don’t fear it. Of course, ideally no one will age and everyone will stay young and healthy, but the reality of life is what it is and I accept that.

Whether we agree with Gill Pharaoh or not, the bottom line is, we in the West proud ourselves on the freedom that we have to make our own choices and shape our own destinies, and as such, I respect her decision.

What are your views on old age? Do you agree or disagree with Gill Pharaoh’s decision?

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