TERRY PRONE: Ignoring what will become of us in old age has dire consequences

The one thing we don’t educate ourselves about is the inevitability of having to cope with the ageing process, writes Terry Prone.

A smartphone can be a major boon to the elderly, but sometimes it can cause consternation too.

This is not about Donald Trump. Isn’t that good news? Nationally and internationally, I figure we’re trumped out. Never has more space in mainstream and social media been devoted to anything. Never have more tears been wept, more dire prognostications prognosticated, more analysis devoted to the inexplicable. Although, on the tears, maybe the demise of Princess Diana occasioned as many as has the US presidential election victory of The Donald. Floods, there were, back then. A tsunami of bawling and a glut of garage flowers. Things would never be the same again, they said, through their gulping sobs. Never.

And you know what? Things were exactly and precisely the same after Princess Di died as they were before. Things have a marvellous capacity not to live up to dire prophecies of radical change. Entropy terrifies, and that’s behind the Trump reaction. But it also motivates. People recreate order out of chaos and, if the wind is in the right direction and the force is with us, we’ll all be grand, even if the orange guy with the hair is in the White House.

That said, so many people were so upset about Hillary Clinton’s loss that when a friend broke down at the beginning of a phone call last week, following the statement that “I can’t take any more of this”, I assumed his emotion was politically generated, although I was surprised, never having expected him to be that sentimentally attached to the idea of another Clinton presidency. As he gathered himself together, I went into overdrive trying to work out if the financial health of his business was likely to come under threat from the new US administration. I’m still not over learning that the Fairy Doors company has been so challenged by the currency shift consequent on the Brexit decision that if they weren’t now exporting fairy doors to stick on trees to half the world, they’d be broke. Fairy Doors have been one of the export success stories of the recession. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall when the Fairy Doors entrepreneurs were explaining to the bank why it would be good to give them money for something no market research had ever established the need for.

However, in the case of my sad friend, it turned out, as his sobs reduced, that his problem is with his father, who is 87 and no longer the full shilling. His father is pretty close to the full shilling, but inevitably has lost some of his capacities as he has aged, and is considerably less mobile. Being less mobile means that he can no longer drive his car, and one of the problems about lifelong drivers in their old age is that they first of all hate the very idea of calling a taxi, then don’t understand apps like Hailo, and finally experience the regulated charges as threateningly expensive. My friend’s father, accordingly, is housebound. This, in turn, means he spends his time watching television and gets fearful about gang warfare although, in the scheme of things, neither the Kinahans nor the Hutches present an immediate threat to him, personally. But the reality is that the people who consume most TV because they’re not able to go out and interact with the world, tend to be most fearful of the world.

In the past, this man was a reader, particularly of sports pages. Although his son points out that the delivery to his home of the newspaper wouldn’t be a problem, the older man isn’t able for nipping down the stairs to the front door at an early hour to grab the paper. The HSE home care person doesn’t come until 9am and he’s wary of getting out of bed without a steadying hand. Although the elderly man is computer-literate, his son has found that logging on to his iPhone and iPad is now beyond him, and so the two gadgets sit, mutely unhelpful, beside his bed, fully charged and impotent.

It was, in fact, the iPhone that caused my friend’s meltdown. Since his only sister lives in New Zealand, phone contact with her requires a certain amount of scheduling, and the son had arranged to be with his father to facilitate the call on this particular day. His widowed father sat in the chair the son had bought — one of those enormous leather contraptions that, at the command of a button, decants the sitter onto the floor. His son, mindful of the need to help his father’s continued autonomy, suggested it was time to ring Marnie. Absolutely, said the father, and set about it with a will. He even remembered the multiple digits involved. The only problem was that accurately keying the digits for New Zealand into the remote control for the TV doesn’t tend to be productive, as his son pointed out.

“Well, why did you let me make that mistake?” the elderly man asked, and his son got good and mad. Words borrowed words, with the son pointing out that he got no thanks for all he did for his father, while the father’s pet was Marnie, the sister who had buzzed off to New Zealand (where, we assume, she was scrutinising her phone waiting for a call from home) and was doing nothing for her da. Her da told his son he didn’t need anything done for him. Furthermore, he opined, the son had always been a moany, put-upon whinge and why didn’t he take himself off because he was of no value sitting on his arse being critical.

The major issue, the son says, is that his father is so ungrateful. The son is there every evening, takes care of everything, because it’s difficult for someone in New Zealand to rustle up, on demand, haute cuisine such as baked beans on toast. And is the father grateful? No.

The only unusual aspect of my friend’s problem is that he’s male, since I would unscientifically believe that roughly 90% of those taking care of aging parents are female, but his situation is replicated all over the country. It’s an oddity of modern life that we educate young people in what will get them CAO points. We educate the workforce in skills ranging from presentation to managing change. Increasingly, we educate everybody on the need to do something about their pension to prevent them begging in the street in their seventies. Further, we vaccinate them against everything from whooping cough to shingles, in order to protect against possible biological threat. Air travellers are subjected, on each and every journey, to advice on what to do in the unlikely event of the plane going down. We have call centres with trained counsellors waiting to help anybody whose toddler or teenager is being a bother.

The one thing we don’t educate ourselves about is the inevitability of having to cope with the ageing process of ourselves and those around us. It’s the ultimate delusional behaviour. We know it’s coming. We decide it’s not going to apply to us. So when it does, we’re surprised and incompetent in the fact of the certain challenge of age.

The one thing we don’t educate ourselves about is the inevitability of having to cope with the ageing process

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