Better elderly care: what might it look like?


A caveat here: I’m not an expert on policy changes or the inner machinations of government, so I will speak purely from a clinical and anthropological perspective. It’s not within my remit (without doing a lot of research) to make policy suggestions — I’d suggest reading Camilla Cavendish’s excellent book, mentioned at the foot of this article, instead — but I will nevertheless continue my societal thought experiment, backed up by some context.



Volunteering is brilliant. Not only does it build communities and add value in myriad ways, more often than not it provides the essential humanity-based adhesive between the tiles of process and corporation. I will never forget the volunteers during my 6 months of A&E who flitted serenely between bays dispensing that stalwart British intervention, the cup of tea, as well as a reassuring hand on the arm, or a minute or two of really listening to concerns. Not everything that counts can be counted.



Put simply, increased societal volunteering could support a social care system currently dangerously failing people with dementia. More precisely (and positively) it could

  1. Dismantle the public narrative of despair surrounding dementia


For the last 2 years I have worked as a software developer in software education and health & social care technology. I firmly believe, along with Garry Kasparov, that “the more that people believe in a positive future for technology, the greater chance there is of having one […] we will all choose what the future looks like by our beliefs and our actions.” I have watched with incredulity as health tech has improved, in public and private sectors, hand over fist in the last 5 months. Drs Fiona Kellas and Reuben Jacob argue that the development of digital health technology is expected to lead to lower health costs, personalised treatments and quicker diagnosis, resulting in better outcomes. This is fabulous! But technology is no panacea. Computers and humans are good at fundamentally different things. And we haven’t seen much change or innovation in the human, societal side of things during this time.



It is nothing new to suggest we need to change the way our society thinks about the elderly, and encourage mutual respect between all generations. But this is everyone’s responsibility; it is both a privilege and a pleasure to aid someone, knowing your turn may come tomorrow or in ten years’ time. I believe we need an explosion of creativity and humanity in formal and informal volunteering, as attitudes in society rarely convincingly change on such a large scale as the result of a well-placed media campaign or top-down public policy on its own. When navigating change in complex social systems, Peter Stroh advises, people must appreciate that current reality is something that is co-created by every single individual and their actions, not simply something that just “is”. Charles Duhigg, the bestselling author and maestro of habit formation and organisational culture, proclaimed: “There are no organisations without institutional habits. There are only places where they are deliberately designed, and places where they are created without forethought, so often they grow from rivalries or fear.” I think it’s time to rebuild our society’s institutional habits. Work less, volunteer in our communities more.



Related reading, all highly accessible:

  • Extra Time: 10 Lessons for Living Longer Better (Camilla Cavendish)
  • The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity (Andrew Scott & Lynda Gratton)
  • The Changing Mind: A Neuroscientist’s Guide to Ageing Well (Daniel Levitin)
  • The Gerontechnologist’s 2020 AgeTech Market Map (Keren Etkin)
  • Contented Dementia (Oliver James)
  • The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg)
  • All That Remains: A Life in Death (Sue Black)
  • Being Mortal (Atul Gawande)
  • The Language of Kindness: A Nurse’s Story (Christie Watson)
  • Systems Thinking for Social Change (David Peter Stroh)
  • The Remarkable Life of the Skin (Monty Lyman)
  • The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age (Robert Wachter)
  • Ethical Business Practice and Regulation (Christopher Hodges & Ruth Steinholtz)
  • Under the Skin: Love Letters to the Body (various authors, Wellcome Collection)
  • Give and Take: Why Helping Others Helps Us Succeed (Adam Grant)
  • Deep Thinking (Garry Kasparov)
  • Admissions: A Life In Brain Surgery (Henry Marsh)
  • Your Life in My Hands: A Junior Doctor’s Story (Rachel Clarke)
  • The Warmth of the Heart Prevents Your Body from Rusting: Ageing Without Growing Old (Marie de Hennezel)
  • Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World (David Orr)



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Lucy Mitchell

Lucy Mitchell


Technical Writer. Former NHS OT and software developer in health tech. I like bikes and plants.