Friday, 12 April 2013

What makes you, you?


As a follow on from my last post How Do You Feel About Memories I think it is also important to consider how we stereotype those who need care services and what we need to consider, especially when thinking about older peoples services.

Stereotyping is a natural human trait, we find it easier to put groups of people in specific categories rather than struggle with having to think about everyone as an individual. It is easier, for example, to put all football fans, in the same category rather than struggle to think about the 100’s of thousands of individuals within that category.

In many instances stereotyping is used as a political weapon to demonise a ‘group’ of people, as shown recently by labeling all benefits claimants as ‘shirkers’ who live of the hard work of the ‘strivers’ in society. Of course that analogy, much touted recently, fails to take into account,perhaps the worst type of benefit fraudster, those who work but still claim benefits – are they shirkers or strivers? This is why stereotyping politically in dangerous.

Yet even in the social care world, where awareness of individuality is more recognised there is a tendency to stereotype, not as a means of demonization but as bureaucratic convenience. Yet there are pitfalls we must avoid if we are to ensure that social care services are truly personalised.

We don’t just stereotype people we also tend to stereotype history. The bulldog British spirit of World War Two, the Swinging Sixties, etc and there is a tendency toward selective memory of the past. How often, for example, do we see moans about the youth culture of today yet the complaints are made by those who grew up during the era of ‘mods and rockers’ ‘punk rockers’ etc who were on the receiving end of similar complaints.

How does all this apply to social care?

Imagine a care home, in one seat a 75 year old in the next a 100 year old. Both old people in an old peoples home to most, yet there is a 25 year age gap. Now imagine someone 25 years younger or older than you. The 100 year old is actually sufficiently older to be the younger persons parent.

The 100 year would have been born in 1913, just before the First World War and would have reached their teens in 1926 and spent their formative years during the depression and would have been 26 at the outbreak of World War Two and approaching their 50’s as the Swinging Sixties started.

The 75 year old was born in 1938, so just 7 as the Second World War ended. What can you remember about your life as a seven year old? They entered their teens in the early 50’s, the time of rock and roll and the beginning of modern youth culture. Just 22 as the 60’s started so, as someone in their 20’s, their experience of the decade would have been completely different from the older person, now middle-aged.

As the general population ages and degenerative diseases impact on lives more and more it is so important that we take into account all aspects of the individual. Old people are not just old people, their lives can be worlds apart as can be their memories and how life has impacted on them over time.

Our experiences through our life make us unique individuals. Each of us is touched by different experiences which then impact on how we move forward in life. We are influenced by different people and we are influenced by the events of the world around us, and how we see those events depends on our past influences and our age.
We are, individually, a complex make up of different memories and experiences and to deliver the best possible services we have to take time to understand both the individual and the wider world which influenced them. Delivering quality is not just about clinical execution of care duties but of taking time to help people to live the life they want, which is, inevitably, based on their age and life experiences.