People are ageing without children for a wide variety of reasons. You can read about people’s experiences below. If you would like to add your story whether using your name or anonymously if you prefer email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jill is a story teller, writer and actor who has cared for both her mother and her husband and is ageing without children. You can find out more about her here www.lamede.com.
Below Jill shares her experiences of being a carer and her concern about ageing without children
Our current system of coping with the old and the dying leaves the main burden of care on the family.
In my own case, after caring for my husband, I then had to care for my mother – eventually giving up my own life to move in with her and be ‘on duty’ 24 hours a day – every day – for 3 years.
On one occasion when a urine infection combined with an unfortunate change of medication and an overdose of sleeping pills, my mother was rushed into hospital at night. She was discharged the next morning, despite my tears and pleas that I be allowed at least one night’s unbroken sleep. I was obviously absolutely exhausted – but I was told to take her home and someone would come to see me in a day or so.
The final straw came when, after taking the dogs for a brief walk, I returned to find water pouring through the ceiling. I dashed upstairs to find my mother lying naked on the bathroom floor with the bath, taps full on, overflowing around her. She had tried to drown herself but fell while trying to get into the bath.
I immediately contacted Social Services, the GP and the Community Nurse. They rushed to make sure my mother was still alive – and then just left me to cope once more.
But I couldn’t cope.
I had been offered some work, just 2 days a week, that I really wanted to do. So I informed Social Services, the GP and the Community Nurse that I would be going back to work on the Monday. I organised a steady rota of carers, both professional and amateur, so that my mother would never be left on her own for more than a few minutes.
The work helped restore my sanity and confidence – but when I returned home that first day, I found the house empty. There was a scribbled note saying that my mother had been taken to hospital as a place of safety. Her condition had not changed in any way, but the fact that I was not there and the Community Nurse had to deal with her falling and incontinence meant that the situation was at last taken seriously.
My mother was a bed-blocker for 4 months – clearly very distressed but never given any palliative care to help make her existence bearable. Hearing aids were lost or fitted with dead batteries so that her isolation was complete. Her complaints of discomfort and a throbbing under her diaphragm were simply dismissed as imagination.
I visited her every day – the one bit of brightness in her life.
When at last she was transferred to a nursing home she died within hours of a burst abdominal aortic aneurism. Of course her discomfort had been real and could have been eased. But no one believed her.
Ageing Without Children
There are hundreds of thousands of us – and the number is growing. We have done our share of caring. We have saved the country uncounted £billions in care costs. Now each of us is alone.
We may never have been fortunate enough to have children. Our families have died before us – or are estranged – or living overseas. We are facing a dreadful future.
We know how hard we had to fight to get the help, financial and practical, that our loved ones needed as they approached their deaths. Who will now fight for us?
Unless I die suddenly from an accident, heart attack or stroke, I anticipate that, as I become incapable of coping at home alone, I will be shoved into the cheapest available care home – all my possessions sold to cover the costs – and simply be left to rot.
Yes… I am angry…
and… I am afraid
Larry Gardiner, 66, lives in Oxford with mild cognitive impairment which can cause problems with memory and thinking skills similar to dementia. He said: “I have five fully grown children who I love very much, I also have a large family who live all over the world. I don’t see them very often.
“This condition means I can go through long periods of memory loss, confusion and I can sometimes feel disorientated. I have had to arrange support in other ways because my children live so far from my home.” People always assume that there is family around to help but that’s not always the case.
“I live in a set of apartments with other single people who are over 55; there are just two couples here and singletons can feel isolated living alone. A few of us set up a club called ‘Young at Heart’ where we meet for fish and chips and listen to music, which is great fun. I’m also a member of a young dementia cabaret style club that meets once a month and I do a lot of volunteering and charity work for the Alzheimer’s Society. It’s little things like this that keep me busy and make a huge difference.”
I lost my father to cancer when I was a student – I have always known that family matters more than material success, and am very much a nurturing person.
I lost my father to cancer when I was a student – I have always known that family matters more than material success, and am very much a nurturing person. I find myself looking after others in many ways, and those nurturing instincts have been diverted primarily into care for my mother, who has lived with dementia for well over a decade – nearer twenty years from the earlier symptoms. Her needs have become paramount, arguably to the detriment of both my career and my personal life. The social and financial contribution of carers (particularly the freelance or self-employed, who don’t show up in any HR stats) is often invisible and vastly under-valued. So now I find myself facing older age with no family to care for me, as I have done for my mum and I admit it scares me. I have seen, through many crisis points with mum, how vulnerable you can be in the social care system and the NHS – let alone in wider society – with no-one to speak up and fight for you
Read more about Ming’s story in “Our Voices”