Let’s Talk about Growing Older

By Christine Towers, Director at Together Matters

In the course of their everyday life, most people who are ‘feeling their age’ talk to their friends, family or work colleagues about their experience of getting older: their aches and pains, forgetfulness and tiredness. They may also share their joys: perhaps feeling more contented or less rushed.

Yet many people with learning disabilities miss out on these conversations because they are less likely to have a network of friends or have had a working life, both of which can provide this much needed peer-support. Also, people who organise support are sometimes more focused on a person’s learning disability rather than the more general course of their life.

It’s made me think about how it might feel if you are experiencing aching knees, forgetfulness or a lack of motivation to go out and about without understanding these might be occurring as a result of being another year older. It’s helpful to know that it’s quite normal to feel this way. It’s also helpful to have people in your life who give reassurance, share ideas and help to find solutions.

Ian Davies is a founder member of Northamptonshire People First and a self-advocate with over 30 years’ experience of speaking-up about what’s important in people’s lives. Ian and I got together to talk about growing older in preparation for filming we were going to be doing as part of developing training resources for Pavilion and Open Future Learning.

Over a year ago, we met in a pub in Kettering to talk about different aspects of older age such as looking after your health, choices about where to live, friendship and feelings of loss. Afterwards, Ian said ‘Some of these things had been at the back of my mind for a while. I’m glad to have talked about them and can start to think about how I might cope or where I might want to live in the future.

This has been the first time anyone has spoken to me about this and it has got me thinking about lots of important things.’ This, in turn, got me thinking about the importance of having conversations with people about older age and the possible changes this may bring.

I also met with other people to ask about their experience of being older: what was good, what was hard and what changes they might like to have in the way they were supported by others? Most people I spoke to seemed keen to think about this and had good ideas about what would help them to enjoy older age as well as keep safe and well. Their thoughts, along with Ian’s, helped me to see what support staff needed to learn about and therefore shaped the training resources on good support as people grow older that I went on to develop.

The training resources cover key aspects of a good life in relation to older age: emotional well-being, health, being active and involved, home life and bereavement and dying. Running through these is an emphasis on finding out about how people are experiencing getting older with lots of practical ideas to make changes that can help to make life feel safer and more enjoyable.

People with learning disabilities need to be given opportunities to think about how they would like their life to be as they get older and to know others are interested in finding this out and giving support to make it happen.

Visit the Together Matters website to find out more about our work and resources related to growing older here

Further details about the Pavilion resources are available here, where there are details of a Training Pack (for the delivery of group training) and a Self-Study Guide. The Open Future Learning training will be an on-line course and is currently being developed.