How do you feel about the idea of needing someone to dress you, wash you, help you to the toilet or change your incontinence pads, feed you, give you medication, move you around, and enable you to watch the TV programmes of your choosing or listen to the music that you love?
This is day-to-day life for the many people who receive care. Such dependence can happen at any age, but it becomes more likely as you get older, making the need for care something people fear the most as they approach their mature years.
With our fragmented social care systems, the cost implications of care, and the barrage of reports that keep telling us about the problems people who receive care are facing, you could be forgiven for wondering if retirement really will be a golden time. Yet the stress caused by fear and anxiety at the possibility of needing personal care in later life is likely to actively contribute to that very deterioration in your health and wellbeing that you are desperate to avoid.
It's a vicious circle, but in some respects we are the architects of our own downfall. As a society we are finally waking up to the realisation that we don't have the care homes and home care services that we want, but we also have to face the uncomfortable realisation that maybe we have the ones we deserve. While our most vulnerable older people are innocently caught up in the failings that have been tolerated for far too long, many people of my generation are guilty of glorifying greed, desiring more of everything, having less time for others and rushing though each day, often oblivious to those who need something from us, whether it's our time or our help.
When we are then faced with huge care bills for a loved one that erode inheritance, a need for the most basic elements of our relative's life to be enhanced with skill and dedication, and crave kindness and a listening ear for them when we can't be at their side, we are often left feeling frustrated and angry.
Yes care needs to be more highly skilled, dignified, compassionate and available at the point of need, and professionals working within the care sector need to deliver on those requirements, but we also need to ask questions of ourselves as a society. We fear needing care personally, but still do not attach enough importance to improving it. Social care is expected to be a huge issue at the next general election, and yet how many of us will demand our politicians improve services that, if we have no personal experience of them, we are likely to turn the other cheek to?
It is so much easier to complain about unfair taxes, the EU and the benefits system. Thinking about doing for an adult what you would do for a baby horrifies most people. Yet if we don't demand better of those who create and run our care services, we are only ultimately doing ourselves a great injustice if we ever need care personally or seek it for a loved one.
If that time comes in your family, you simply have to work within the constraints of the systems as you find them. Many of us, myself included, have had to fight for the rights of our loved ones to be given the care that they need and deserve, often with very mixed results, but we remain in a minority - for now. The work I do will never benefit my father since he passed away in April 2012, but it is about getting away from our selfish tendencies that seem to serve us so well as fit and healthy younger people, and looking at the sort of society we want to live in if we, or those we love the most, are ever vulnerable and relying on strangers to provide care.
Alleviating our fear of needing care will only come from improving standards, changing cultures, and demanding that care is delivered upon a foundation of treating others as we would wish to be treated ourselves. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and go on hoping that bad care will never find a way into our lives. Fear is no protection from reality.Suggest a correction