To Absent Friends, a people’s festival of storytelling and remembrance

Guest blogger Mark Hazelwood, CEO of the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care, introduces a new festival.


I’ve some great memories of my friend Helen, who I knew for 30 years and who died earlier this year.  I remember her giggle, her passion for improving the probation service and the time we did an overnight bus trip from Mysore to Bangalore.

To Absent Friends

All of us, except the very young, have memories of people who have died and who remain important to us.  For many people there comes a time when the relationships we have with those who have died outnumber those we have with the living.

People often have their own private ways of remembering people who have died, but in general in Scottish culture, public acknowledgement of the importance of the relationships we have with the dead is very limited.  The exception is Remembrance Day, but of course most people don’t die as a result of military service.

In Mexico every year in November they mark El Dia Los Muertos – Mexican day of the dead.  These two days are dedicated to remembering family and friends who have died.  Graves are tidied and decorated, special meals are prepared, and people remember, respect and celebrate those who have died.

Historically Scotland used to have equivalent traditions.  In pre-Christian times we had Samhain, a November festival during which places were laid at the meal table, to remember and honour dead ancestors.  There are elements of Samhain in the subsequent Christian festivals of All Souls and All Saints, as well as in Halloween.  But with the decline of organized religion and the explosion of hyper-commercialised trick or treating something important and valuable has surely been lost.

Our current culture of silence contributes to the isolation which many people who are recently bereaved say they experience. It is part of a wider silence about death, which can be a barrier to planning and preparing for the inevitable and a barrier to supporting each other.

So if are old ways of doing things are in decline, but there is still a deep human need to remember the dead, what is to be done?

A new festival will take place in Scotland this year from 1st -7th  November – a people’s festival of storytelling and remembrance, called To Absent Friends.  The festival will be an opportunity for people to remember dead loved ones and tell stories about people who’ve died.  It will provide an excuse to build upon the emergent creativity which can already be witnessed in phenomena such as sponsored events in memory of dead loved ones, Facebook and twitter tributes when someone dies, and the growth in personalised and individualised funerals.

To Absent Friends is unprescriptive and completely open to individual interpretation.   It is not an awareness week. It is not a fundraiser.  It is not corporately owned.  It will happen among friends, families and communities – people can mark the occasion – or not – in whatever way works for them.  Participation might be private and individual, for example lighting a candle at home.  It may be private but collective, for example attending a themed concert and thinking private memories.  It may be individual and public, for example posting on an online wall of remembrance or it might be public and collective, for example cooking together with friends and family what was granny’s favourite recipe.

Peacock Tree

The signs are that the festival has struck a chord and we are aware of numerous and varied events being enthusiastically planned.  For example, on the Isle of Lewis, over 60s groups are getting together to do artwork, sing songs, eat traditional food and tell stories of people in the community who have died over the years.  Residents, family and staff at the Peacock Nursing home in Livingston are creating a Remembrance Tree. Wigtown cake

Glasgow University is holding a “remembrance café” for their student nurses. A 20 foot Memorial Wall will be fixed on the famous town railings of the broadest town square in Scotland in Wigtown and there will be free tea and cake afterwards.

As well as grass roots activities such as these the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care has teamed up with arts organisations to deliver some bigger events which will help to raise the national profile of the festival.  The Royal Scottish National Orchestra are playing a concert in Glasgow. In Edinburgh there will be a lunchtime organ recital in the Usher Hall.

Usher Hall

Together with the Luminate Festival To Absent Friends brings an exhibition by photographer Colin Gray.  And story teller Margot Henderson will be telling tales of Absent Friends as part of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival.

Heaven and Hull from "The Parents" by Colin Gray www.colingray.net

Heaven and Hull from “The Parents” by Colin Gray http://www.colingray.net

It is not too late to be in right at the start of something!  Please have a look round the To Absent Friends website.    Have a look at the events, at the ideas and suggestions.  See if anything strikes a chord.  Tell us your own ideas.  www.toabsentfriends.org.uk

The Difference Power of Attorney makes: Shirley’s story

Guest Blogger Shirley Gill’s parents were diagnosed with Dementia within a year of each other. Her father had Power of Attorney set up but her mother did not. In her guest blog, she shares with us the vastly different experiences she had when trying to manage her parent’s financial matters, and the difference that having Power of Attorney set up made.


Initially my parents had no Will or Power of Attorney in place. My Mum saw herself as forever youthful, and Dad had always allowed her to attend to all financial matters. After being reluctant to attend her GP, Mum was late in receiving a diagnosis of Frontotemporal Dementia at the age of 70. She was admitted to hospital then moved into nursing home care. Mum lacked the capacity to make decisions about her finances and welfare, but as there was no Power of Attorney set up, I was advised that to be able to make any decisions on her behalf, I would need to apply for guardianship.

Mum and I met with solicitors to assess her views but she didn’t understand any of it. The solicitor then had to write to the GP and Consultant about her diagnosis and capacity. The solicitors also then had to write to every close relative of Mum’s, to find out if anyone had an objection to me being her guardian, despite the fact that some of them had had no recent contact with Mum. This process took months and in the interim I had to apply for Access to Funds at Office of Public Guardian (OPG) so that I could deal with Mum’s financial matters. For this I had to detail her every requirement and it was very stressful and time-consuming.

During this time, Dad agreed to see a solicitor to arrange a Will and Power of Attorney. Dad was visited in his own home and the whole process was straight-forward and not costly. The following year he was diagnosed with Vascular Dementia. It was a comfort to know that with the Power of Attorney set up, we had everything in place so that I could look after his finances and welfare when he was no longer able.

Several lawyer’s letters later, Guardianship was eventually in place for Mum, having cost a total of £6000. I needed to have this in order to make any decisions about Mum’s care or deal with her finances. Even now the process is complete, I have to send annual accounts to OPG which is very time consuming.

What I have learned from this experience is that it’s a good idea to arrange a Will and Power of Attorney in as much advance as you can, you are never too young. I have now arranged a Will and for my daughter to be my Power of Attorney. I would urge people to consider Power of Attorney to protect their families and reduce any unnecessary stress in the event of illness.

For more information on Power of Attorney visit the Age Scotland website, or to speak to someone about your individual situation call Silver Line Scotland on 0800 4 70 80 90.

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Getting Online at 85

The 13th – 19th of October is “Get Online” week! Our Digital Communications Officer Emma Bisset visited a computer club held by Keeping in Touch Edinburgh (KiTE), to find out how the organisation is helping older people overcome their fears of technology and getting them online.


Technology has been part of my life for some time now. I’ve had to use email and the internet for work for years, and I regularly do my banking and shopping online. For many people going online is second nature, so it’s easy to forget that some older people never used a computer during their working lives. As an increasing number of services move to being more focused on their online activities, there is a fear that these people will be left behind.

That’s why organisations like KiTE are so crucial. KiTE work with older people to introduce them to the benefits and fun of being online, and work to alleviate their fear of technology. They offer a structured beginners course, 1-2-1 sessions and a more relaxed computer club. Viewpoint Housing Association provide funding for Old Farm Court Sheltered Housing to host a regular computer club, which residents can attend for free. I went to visit them recently to find out more.

Computer club members ably helped by EleanorI first spoke to a lady in her mid-eighties called May. She had never used a computer while working but is now a regular attendee of the computer club, having had a 1-2-1 session to get over her initial reservations.

She has now signed up to Facebook, which she uses to stay in touch with a friend in Ohio and share information with other older friends who are also members. “My hearing isn’t what it was and I need the telly on really loud, which probably disturbs my neighbours. I got free headphones for the telly from DeafAction which have really helped, so I put on Facebook that they did that so my friends knew as well. It’s great for letting people know your news and what’s going on.” May’s next goal is to learn how to make Christmas cards online so she can personalise and print off cards for everyone this year.

I also spoke to a gentleman called Jimmy who said the club has helped him find his way online. He goes online to plan trips down south. “I got a better deal on train tickets because I checked online so it’s good for that.”

Gina, 75 has found being online helpful for sharing things with her granddaughter. “She’s five and visited one day when it was raining. There wasn’t much to do and she was bored so we went online and watched the live camera of the panda in Edinburgh Zoo. She loved it and it’s something we can do together.”

One lady who was attending the club for the first time still had her reservations and said she found the session rather overwhelming. I noticed how the other members rallied round, reassuring her that they had felt the same on their first visit.

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There is a real sense of the members being supported as they find their own way, with some members bringing their own laptops and even iPads. Some had clearly built up some confidence, only calling on KiTE volunteers if something unexpected happened, while others sat with a volunteer, being talked through a process.

People of all ages differ in how much they use technology and what they go online for. It’s great to see organisations like KiTE working to tackle the fear some older people have, and explain the benefits of the internet and digital technology to generations that are just discovering them.

One lady approached me at the end of the session to say “I always ask a lot of questions, but these volunteers are worth their weight in gold.” She chatted with the volunteers before packing up her laptop to leave, shouting as she left “Just remember, don’t get old!”001

Visit KiTE’s website to find out more about their work.

 

Power of Attorney – Our National Campaign

Rebecca Dickson, our Power of Attorney Project Officer, kicks off our national campaign to get Scotland talking about Power of Attorney.


We all plan in some way for the “what ifs” of tomorrow.POA logo We might set aside some rainy day savings, make a will, or have a discussion about what we would want to happen should life not go according to plan. Power of Attorney can form part of that discussion. Appointing one or several Attorneys provides us with an opportunity to have a think about and express what our priorities and wishes are in relation to various areas of our lives. This could include instructions regarding financial affairs or even how we would like to be taken care of if we become ill.

Granting a Power of attorney is something which can give you peace of mind. Knowing that you have expressed your wishes as to what you would like to happen in a situation you may find yourself in, should you no longer be in a position to make such a decision yourself. Financial affairs can also be managed for you even if it is for the reason that you are due to be out of the country for a period of time or you feel that a trusted person is perhaps better suited to managing a particular aspect of your affairs on your behalf.

Handpick who makes decisions on your behalfForward planning is the key to granting a Power of Attorney given the fact that it must be granted by someone who has been deemed to have full capacity to make such a decision. An Attorney may never be needed, but if they are then you can have the peace of mind knowing that they are equipped with the knowledge and legal authority to make decisions according to what is important to you and in your best interests.

So, what is important to you? Imagine you became unable to accurately express your wishes: What is it that you would want people to know about you? Perhaps you are a vegetarian and want to ensure none of your meals contain meat products; or you would like your bills paid two days early, because that’s what you have always done; or maybe you would like someone to know your feelings about certain medical treatments in the event they will be something you may want to consider.

We are encouraging Scotland’s older population to be thinking about what is important to them and to consider expressing this in a Power of Attorney document. There are many situations in which individuals find themselves which may have been avoided or eased if there was someone around who had the legal authority to make a decision on his or her behalf.  This is one of several reasons behind Age Scotland’s Power of Attorney Campaign.

As part of our campaign and in my role as Power of Attorney Project Officer, I will be connecting with local groups and communities to raise awareness and promote the use of Power of Attorney. I will be delivering presentations, facilitating workshops and liaising with professionals and other organisations in order to spread the word.

Rebecca at her latest POA event

Rebecca talking about POA at an event in Tranent

If you feel there is an event or group that would benefit from more information or a presentation, please let us know. Similarly, if you have an experience you would like to share with us in relation to Power of Attorney, please email communications@agescotland.org.uk

Visit Age Scotland for more information, where you will find a Power of Attorney Information pack and our handy Mythbuster. Alternatively you can call Silver Line Scotland on 0800 4 70 80 90 (8am-8pm, Monday to Friday).

Mental Health and Older People

Today is World Mental Health Day – a day the world celebrates mental health education, awareness and advocacy. Guest blogger Karyn Davie, Age Scotland’s Health & Benefits Project Worker, shares her findings from recent group discussions on mental health and older people, and the barriers to people seeking help.


Earlier this year I met with some of Age Scotland’s member groups to talk about mental health and wellbeing; access to treatments, and their own personal experiences.

It was clear that self-stigma remains a strong barrier to people in older age seeking help to mental health issues, with individuals being concerned about being judged by others.

‘My neighbours didn’t know why I was in hospital- it would be different if it was a heart attack or something, they would stop me in the street and ask if I was ok- but they would look strange and think I was a ‘loony’ who had been in a ‘loony ward’. I couldn’t cope with that’.Man_Garden_006

Another common theme that was discussed by the groups was loss of social networks and the effect this has on self-esteem, and sense of social standing. One gentleman told me: “I have been to four funerals already this year- that’s my social life! I worry there’ll be no one left to come to mine”.

Other Common Losses discussed were:

  • The impact of retirement, and the loss of structure to the day
  • Moving home; close friends or family moving away;
  • Living on reduced income
  • Not being able to take part in activities enjoyed for many years because of difficulties getting there, health problems or hearing/sight problems that affect them
  • Sense of vulnerability due to sudden health changes i.e. stroke or heart attack

All of these losses were discussed as having a significant impact on the person’s self-esteem, with many people advising that they made them feel isolated and lonely.

While visiting the Mood Project in West Lothian, the Men’s Group were very honest and open about issues for them. They made the following observations:

  • Men don’t generally pick up leaflets to seek advice unless; directly given to them by a health professional; forced to by a partner; or it says ‘free’ on the cover!
  • Men tend to talk about ‘problems’ rather than emotions.
  • They would rather be actively ‘doing things’ rather than talking i.e. walking groups, outings, men’s sheds.
  • Mental health problems affect their sense of masculinity- they should be the strong one; the protector and provider and this is challenged by feelings of being ‘weak’.

Many people I spoke to that described physical symptoms such as heart palpitations and headaches that don’t go away were unaware that the way they felt could be due to their mental health. They also preferred to use terms like ‘funny turns’ rather than panic attacks.

Much of the terminology used in modern day mental health services such as ‘mental resilience’ or ‘coping strategies’ was unrecognised, and had a very negative impact. There was also very little awareness or understanding of treatment options such as psychological therapies, and social prescriptions. Both of these factors presents a real barrier to people seeking help, as the fear remains that it will lead to admission to a psychiatric hospital.

In general written resources are not age friendly, often using bright fonts with modern slang and terminology or advocating use of mobile apps or computer programmes which can isolate older audiences. Information is also not always presented in a way that takes into account differing needs due to sensory and cognitive functions.

We also found that concerned friends and family struggled to find resources about ‘how to have that difficult conversation’ and how they could help.

With the learnings from these visits, I am currently developing information resources for people who are concerned about their mental health, with the aim to make it more accessible and age appropriate.

For more information on Mental Health visit:

Or call Silver Line Scotland on 0800 4 70 80 90

 

Age Scotland Awards honour Scotland’s champions of older people

This year’s Age Scotland Awards were held on UK Older People’s Day at a reception at the Scottish Parliament. The awards celebrate the tireless efforts of groups and individuals across Scotland who work to make a difference in their communities.


Brian Sloan, Age Scotland Chief Executive

Brian Sloan, Age Scotland Chief Executive, described choosing the winners as “a humbling experience.” He added “It is wonderful to see the amazing work going on around the country – both in support of our older population but also, often, being carried out by older people. I think our winners demonstrate the breadth of activity going on in communities across the country, which Age Scotland exists to champion and support.”

This year’s Volunteer of the Year was Andrew MacDowall, 82, who dedicates countless hours each week to driving, gardening and providing other help for older people in Argyll. Although he suffers from profound hearing loss and is waiting for a hip operation, this has not stopped his commitment to groups including Oban in Bloom, the local “Soup Group” and the Frail Walking Group.

Andy MacDowall, 82, wins Volunteer of the Year Award

Andy MacDowall, 82, wins Volunteer of the Year Award

Age Scotland Awards 2014

Andy accepting his reward

This year’s Services for Older People Award winner was the multicultural Milan Day Support Service, Edinburgh, which tackles isolation by providing information and social activities to vulnerable older people in their own languages.

Milan Ltd means ‘rendezvous’ or ‘friendly meeting place’, in the four languages of the community that the organisation caters to.

“Milan” means ‘rendezvous’ or ‘friendly meeting place’, in the four languages of the community that the organisation caters to.

A partnership between the Citadel Arts Group and Midlothian-based Community Links Dementia was recognised for improving the health and wellbeing of people with dementia. The groups’ Living Memory Project, which resulted in a play performed by local primary schoolchildren, helped it win the Patrick Brooks Award for Best Working Partnership.

Citadel Arts Group and Midlothian-based Community Links Dementia

Citadel Arts Group and Midlothian-based Community Links Dementia accepting their award.

Clackmannanshire Older Adults Forum was presented with the Jess Barrow Award for Campaigning and Influencing for its successful effort to preserve bus services to nearby hospitals and bring some healthcare services closer to the community.

Clackmannanshire Older Adults Forum

Clackmannanshire Older Adults Forum with their award.

NHS Lanarkshire, the Older People’s Employer of the Year Award 2014, is leading the way in actively supporting and training older people in the workforce, and helping employees prepare for retirement. Its pre-retirement seminars, run with Age Scotland, help people with financial planning, health and wellbeing issues and finding volunteering opportunities.

NHS Lanarkshire won our newest award - the Older Person's Employer of the Year

NHS Lanarkshire won our newest award – the Older People’s Employer of the Year

Merkinch Community Centre’s Singing for Pleasure group was named the best Member Group. With around 40 members, the singers perform regularly at theatres, churches and nursing homes, and featured on BBC One’s talent show, Last Choir Standing.

Singing for Pleasure

Singing for Pleasure win the Member Group of the Year Award

Singing for Pleasure treated guests to two songs on the night.

Singing for Pleasure treated guests to two songs on the night.

It was a wonderful night showcasing the fantastic services and projects happening all over Scotland that benefit older people.

Thank you to all those who entered, and congratulations to our winners from all at the Age Scotland team!

The awards are sponsored by Specsavers, Solicitors for Older People Scotland, David Urquhart Travel, and McCarthy and Stone.

Sedentary Behaviour – What “sit” all about?

There has been a lot in the news lately about sedentary behaviour and the effect this can have on our health.

Jenny Ackland, one of Age Scotland’s Allied Health Professionals, talks us through the research and why, even with a background in health, she was surprised by just how much of an impact sedentary behaviour can have on our physical and mental wellbeing.

So what is sedentary behaviour?

Sedentary behaviour describes periods of time where you’re not very physically active, this could include watching TV, sitting reading a book or sitting working at a computer.

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What the evidence shows:

The research to date shows specific differences in the way sedentary behaviour can impact on our metabolism, physiology, health and wellbeing. It is now recognised that long periods of prolonged sitting is an independent risk factor for poor health outcomes.

The British Heart Foundation National Centre evidence briefing on sedentary behaviour highlights the following:

  • The adverse effects of sedentary behaviours apply even if you meet the physical activity guidelines
  • Public health guidance indicates that prolonged periods of sitting should be avoided
  • Sedentary behaviours have a negative impact on mental wellbeing
  • Sedentary behaviours are associated with increased risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease
  • Sedentary behaviours are associated with lower femoral bone mineral density in post-menopausal women
  • Physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide
  • Patterns and behaviours established in childhood persist with age
  • Sedentary behaviours are more prevalent and sustained in older people

The point about meeting the physical activity guidelines is key. We’re all used to hearing that we should be doing 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, but the research tells us that even if you went for a 30 minute run, if you then sit on the sofa for the rest of the day, you are just as susceptible to the adverse effects!

What’s clear is that more research is needed to identify simple, effective ways people can reduce their sedentary time, and Age Scotland is involved in a major new study aiming to do just that.

The Seniors Understanding Sedentary Patterns Study

This three year study is being led by a team of high profile researchers from a number of universities, including Glasgow Caledonian University. It is funded by the Medical Research Council.

They plan to recruit 750 people from two major long-term Scottish studies from which they already have some clinical measurements and data. This data will be reviewed against new objective measurements on their current activity patterns. The researchers will also interview some participants to capture their views about sedentary behaviour and identify what might encourage people to become more active. Using this information, the aim is to design an intervention that will help to reduce sedentary behaviours.

Age Scotland is part of the Dissemination Advisory Group and we’ll be helping to share information about its work. We will also be raising awareness of the health risks associated with sedentary behaviours, not only with older people but with our own teams at work which has started already in our Edinburgh office!

What can we do at work to reduce sedentary behaviour?

The first step is just to take notice of the amount of sitting that you do in a working day and think about how you can be more active. Have a bit of fun with your team suggesting ways to reduce the amount of sitting you do and what would work for everyone.

Why not make a point of standing up when you answer the phone or have standing or walking meetings? The more active you are the better, but even just standing up for a few minutes in each hour can make a difference.

I would love to hear your ideas and suggestions to reduce the amount of sitting that we all do, so drop me an email at: Jenny.Ackland@agescotland.org.uk