Ageism: a new experience and an uncomfortable one
It has taken me a while to write this blog, as I needed to gather my thoughts and, if I am honest, my feelings. As I thought about what to write, I realised a number of things. Ageism is something I am beginning to experience; it is a new experience, but an uncomfortable one.
Discrimination. I have lived with discrimination all my life and it’s never something you get used to; even when you think you have heard it all before or when you expect certain responses or behaviours, there is always a new all-time low.
That moment, when you feel that blow again or that sinking feeling in your stomach – whether those blows are verbal, physical actions or atmosphere – that emotion is a stark reminder that you can never really be at ease or off your guard.
When reflecting on the experiences of older non-white people facing ageism, and the broad spectrum of discrimination (ie, racism, sexuality, faith, disability) allowed by society and often validated by systematic procedures and processes, it is an unpleasant picture of ageing in the UK.
In my role as Chief Executive of Nubian Life Resource Centre, a specialist provider of services for older people of African and Caribbean heritage, I live the experience of ageism and discrimination almost on a daily basis as my life co-exists with theirs.
The blanket approach to looking after older people within residential care is an example of ageism at its worst.
It is as though older people go into residential care as individuals and over a period of time have their identities stolen as they slowly become invisible based on the culture of care homes and their approach to care.
I’ve seen this happen and have spent the last seven years challenging this approach to care for one resident in particular.
During one of these challenges in 2017, I was advised by the care home manager that they were unable to provide care for African Caribbean older people. This was another one of those blows. Again, I wasn’t shocked based on my experience of this care home for the last seven years, but in my mind I struggled with three elements of this statement. Firstly it’s 2017! In 2017, a manager of a national brand unequivocally told me that they were unable to meet the care needs of the African Caribbean community. Secondly, the reoccurring question: how am I going to grow old in the UK?
The third element that concerned me, was that this manager was of African descent. By his own admission, he was powerless to locally change the culture of care within an organisation where he held a senior position and the staff were culturally mixed.
For the past seven years, I have tried to work with staff to recognise this resident, as an individual. I often prompt:
"Please explain why you cannot read him the menu, so he can choose his meal?"
"Yes, he is blind, but that does not mean he cannot choose what he would like to eat."
"Please can you explain again why he cannot have a Caribbean meal?"
"No, he does not have dementia. He's a bit confused after being in hospital for a month. Can you support him to re-establish his old routine?"
"He’s sitting in his room alone for 70% of the day. Please can you organise some activities based on things he likes to do?"
"Yes he is upset, because you keep washing his face with the same wash cloth used on his body."
Irrespective of the Care Act of 2014, the Equality Act of 2010, the introduction of person-centred care, and co-production, seven years into his residency this 82-year-old African Caribbean male, who is registered blind (living with a number of health conditions which all require nursing/medical care), is not being cared for.
His protected characteristics: age, disability and race which should protect him from discrimination do not. This example is just a snapshot of that unpleasant picture of ageism and discrimination within the Adult Social Care sector.
Can this picture change?
Despite the fact a number of safeguarding concerns regarding the care of this resident and others in the care home have been upheld, there has not been any significant change in the care home’s approach to care. I believe this is due to no significant action being taken at commissioning level. They should hold this care home accountable for breaching all of the above legislation.
When we remain silent we allow ageism, racism and discrimination to grow.
Most of us are familiar with the ‘No Irish No Blacks No Dogs’ signs of the 1950s which greeted the Windrush Generation. I hope the new signs of 2018 say something meaningful along the lines that words are powerful but silence is potent.
Jazz Browne is the Chief Executive of Nubian Life Resource Centre, a specialist provider of services for older people of African and Caribbean heritage.
Have you been affected by any of these issues?
If you have been affected by any of the issues described in this blog, or simply need someone to reach out to, you can call Independent Age’s freephone helpline for information and advice on 0800 319 6789.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Independent Age.