Perspectives, Students and Ageing

I enjoy having students around. It helps keep me fresh and enthusiastic and to see my job through the eyes of someone coming into it rather than through the occasionally blurred eyes of someone who has been working for a while.

I had a student shadowing me for a period yesterday. It was a  fairly standard visit as far as my work goes. The person we went to see (who I’ll call Mrs J) was someone I’ve been working with for a few years. While I endeavour to do my best in every aspect of my work, I can’t deny that Mrs J  is someone I have a soft spot for.

I started working with her about three years ago and to say she is isolated is an understatement. For obvious reasons I can’t go into the details but suffice to say since my first encounter with her we have both come a long way. She has had a lengthy compulsory hospital admission during this period and has lived in three different flats (and two different hospitals) in that time. She is now living in a beautiful flat and has a secure tenancy. She is ‘settled’ for the first time in many many years.  She even has a fairly interesting personal budget to pay for a support worker.

I thought it was quite a good visit. We got through a lot of things that needed to be done and things that needed to be discussed.

As we left the student said to me how sad she felt after the visit. She asked me if all the visits I made were that ‘depressing’ and wondered if I worried about ‘getting old’.

It took me by surprise because I thought it had been quite a positive visit and wasn’t feeling remotely ‘depressed’. Then I remembered the perspective I had and the perspective she has. She doesn’t know, apart from the words that I filled her in with, where my ‘starting point’ with Mrs J was. I can explain and expand but it isn’t the same. My ‘starting point’ needs to change and as long as I consider where Mrs J was three years ago, I wonder if I am becoming complacent about the further routes to enrichment and recovery in her life.

It made me think about the way that new eyes can improve the work that I do and shatter some of that selfsame complacency. I shouldn’t look at where I am now necessarily in the context of where we’ve been but rather where we are going.

As for the sadness in my work, I don’t feel it. I feel it some days and in some situations, of course. It’s hard not to and a part of compassion is empathy but I remember a conversation I had a few years ago when I wasn’t long in the job with a colleague who reminded me, while I was expressing my own concerns about age in general, that we only see a small proportion of the population and to constantly remind myself that most people age well. I try to remember that. I wonder if that is one of the reason for prejudice against older people and a lack of respect in the care system.  We just don’t like being reminded of the fact that we will get old. It personalises the work in a way that working in other areas of social work might not. We all hope to grow old. We owe it to those we work with and for to provide the most assistance and to make what can be the unpleasant task of ‘dealing’ with public services as painless and as accessible as possible.

Food for thought.