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We have slumbered into complacency accepting the status quo. We must wake up. Chances are that we – yes YOU – will grow much older than you thought you would. Imagine…being 85. Try and visualise yourself as an 85-year-old. Take a good look at yourself in the mirror – what do you see? Can you actually visualize yourself at that age?

Think of yourself so many years from now, when you have become more and more of who you are now, all the sharp edges are now sharper, and the blunt ones are blurred more than they are now. You are a more difficult version of yourself. Do you like this older version of yourself? Are you gracefully accepting the changes in your body – having to get up three times a night to go to the toilet, being perhaps hard of hearing, maybe having three sets of spectacles (one for the TV, one to read, one to find the other two pairs). Perhaps you live alone. Or maybe your current relationship has fizzled out to a droning irritation. Your children annoy you and you avoid your grandchildren at all costs. Worst case scenario!

Maybe it is not the worst-case scenario – what if you realised that you have started to be slow in cognition? You really cannot remember important events, names, or dates. You have to leave sticky notes everywhere to remind you of your chores, your passwords, and your appointments. Sometimes you read the sticky notes and you have no idea why you made the note in the first place. You feel terribly insecure. You lose track of time and become confused in conversations. Your children shout at you when you nod off in conversations, but you find it is your only escape. Sometimes, in the middle of a family gathering, you want to just scream at everyone at the top of your voice to LEAVE YOU THE HELL ALONE. You feel incredibly sad and lonely.

You wake up in the middle of the night knowing that something is wrong. That something is really wrong. You fret and worry about what your children are discussing behind your back. When you wake up in the morning, exhausted, you simply do not have the energy to tackle the day, least of all because you have no idea what day it is.

Confusion is a terrible condition which often presents itself to older people, for many reasons, and is extremely debilitating. People get confused because they have no reason to get up in the morning, no purpose, with one day owing into the next. Confusion can be a result of dehydration, or poly-pharmacy. Often people do not take their medication according to the doctor’s prescription (AFTER meals, last thing at night etc.) which could result in impaired homeostasis or iatrogenic disorders (side effects of medications or other well-intended medical interventions). Incontinence often appears as another “old age problem” which is seldom discussed – an acute bladder infection or urinary tract infection could lead to transient incontinence, which if not dealt with properly can lead to chronic incontinence. One of the most common signs of this condition is confusion.

A long term depression will lead to confusion. Up to 80% of older people (especially those in long-term care) suffer from depression, which will lead to confusion and other so-called “symptoms of dementia”. Too often older people are dismissed as “just being old”, when in fact they are at the mercy of conditions that could easily be solved with a proper geriatric assessment.

Confusion should not be confused with dementia. People living with dementia can often be confused, but not all older people who are confused are living with dementia. We need to distinguish between dementia, depression, delirium and confusion. Dementia is a diagnosis by exclusion – there are a host of conditions that need to be excluded before even thinking that a person might be living with dementia.

The point is – we are all growing older. We will all be at the receiving end of at least some of these issues. The bigger question is – how would YOU like to be treated? What are you investing at this early stage of your life to make sure that you are treated with dignity and respect, that people listen to you, care about you and will care for you? Don’t wait until you are 85. And perhaps if you are not quite ready to look at yourself in the mirror, look around you at older people. Well, sadly most of them are under lock and key in “old age homes” so you might not see many of them…. But try and connect with them. See if that is the way YOU would like to Be when you are old one day.

We need to start raising more and more awareness of how older people are treated in society. If for no other reason than to make sure that by the time WE get there, we will not be locked up in institutions that profess to be there for our protection. Old age is not a crime for which you should be “admitted”. Educate yourself, and decide today what your old age will look like. Make the investment to ensure a life worth living!

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