Should we be more positive about ageing? Norfolk conference aims to change attitudes to old age

Zena Aldridge, Norfolk's lead Admiral nurse, speaking at the Positive About Ageing conference. Photo: Bill Smith Zena Aldridge, Norfolk's lead Admiral nurse, speaking at the Positive About Ageing conference. Photo: Bill Smith

Wednesday, April 2, 2014
4:50 PM

“Working with the elderly can be more rewarding than other forms of health care.” That was the message from a Norfolk conference aimed at changing attitudes to old age.

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Ageing facts

■ Average UK life expectancy at the beginning of the 20th century was just over 40-years-old. Average life expectancy in the UK now is 83-years-old for men and 86 for women.

■ The UK’s population of over 85s has grown by 68pc between 1990 and 2010 and that is expected to increase by 106pc over the next 20 years.

■ There are currently 100,000 people over the age of 100 in the UK and that number is predicted to grow to 350,000 centenarians by 2050.

■ One in three people over the age of 65 will develop dementia before they die.

■ The number of dementia cases at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital increases by 2pc a year.

■ The number of people living with dementia in Norfolk is set to rise from more than 13,000 to more than 20,000 by 2025 as the county’s population gets older.

■ Dementia diagnosis rates vary from 33pc in West Norfolk to 51pc in the Great Yarmouth and Waveney area.

■ Whilst dementia is one of the biggest worries for people as they age, only 3.8p is spent on dementia research compared with every £1 spent on cancer research.

Dozens of medical students attended the Positive About Ageing conference today, which aimed to breakdown some of the stigma and encourage people entering the health and social care profession to consider a job in caring for the elderly.

Elderly care is traditionally the least popular area of the health and care industry, said conference organisers from the University of East Anglia.

However, there were plenty of reasons to be positive about getting older and it was time to change people’s attitudes, an audience of more than 150 people were told at the conference at the John Innes Centre, near Norwich.

The event heard from keynote speakers Willie Cruickshank, director of the Norfolk and Suffolk Dementia Alliance, and Richard Jackson, of Mancroft International, and there were a number of workshops including students experiencing old age through a “time machine”.

Charles Miller-Fik, employability fellow at the UEA Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, who organised the conference, said he was keen to ensure that compassion and kindness was never lost from the care setting.

“Working in elderly care has historically been one of the least popular areas to work in and one of the aims of this conference is to raise awareness that it can be a very exciting area to work in and people have to change mind sets.

“I want to see it as a positive and inspiring event that gets people to think differently about the ageing process and encourage newly qualified health professionals to work in elderly care. It is more rewarding. Generally in elderly care, you are with a patient longer and can build up a therapeutic relationship with them and supportive relationship,” he said.

Mr Miller-Fik said that two-thirds of attendees were students and staff from the School of Nursing Sciences, Norwich Medical School and the School of Rehabilitation Sciences.

“Ageing is part of life. Other cultures around the world, like Asia, have a far more positive view of ageing. Unfortunately, it is bad care that hits the headlines, but the majority of doctors, nurses and health professionals provide excellent services,” he said.

Other speakers included Norfolk’s first Admiral Nurse, Zena Aldridge, who helps dementia patients in the community and there was a 50 minute performance of Trevor Smith’s award-winning play on a care home resident’s battle with dementia.

Mr Cruickshank added that people can also live well with dementia and there were ways that care home staff and health workers could help unlock patients’ memories. The dementia alliance has developed a Let’s Talk app to help professionals to get dementia patients to recall memories from their teenage and young adult years.

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