“Help the aged”, Jarvis Cocker sings in the Pulp song of the same name. “One time they were just like you.”
His examples of those similarities in the next lyric aren’t necessarily great – “drinking, smoking cigs and sniffing glue” – but it’s a sweet sentiment nevertheless.
The rest of the first verse is “Help the aged, don’t just put them in a home, can’t have much fun in there all on their own.” And that’s the part I’ve always wondered about.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time in aged care facilities in the past few years, and I’d have to say that they leave me conflicted. They supply care to the aged, as advertised, but does outsourcing the day-to-day assistance mean that families, in the end, don’t care enough for relatives who once had us as their top priority?
On one hand, a place where absolutely everything is done for you is my idea of paradise, and tallies beautifully with my lack of life skills. They handle cooking, laundry, cleaning, bathing, dressing – whatever’s needed to make you comfortable. There are activities and outings, and one home I’ve visited even bakes fresh muffins on the premises, which is the most brilliant method of placating anxious, guilty relatives imaginable.
At times I wonder whether these facilities would be willing to take an unusually incompetent 39-year-old, or if I could make a buck by opening a place catering to inept younger people like mes? Not so much Moran Care as moron care?
But there are times when they seem nightmarish. Laminex-clad departure lounges stinking of boiled cabbage and industrial antiseptic, where we abandon our relatives except for birthdays and Christmas. In the meantime, our so-called loved ones are lfet to wonder whether we’ve forgotten them entirely or are just a bit selfish, until eventually their memories go and it doesn’t seem to matter how often we visit, so we don’t quite so much.
Then I remember how challenging dementia can be, and conclude that in such cases, there’s barely any alternative. Until there’s a cure, many of us will get to the stage where we need round-the-clock care, and are a risk of wandering. Which means somebody else decides to place us in locked facilities, making us effectively prisoners, but it’s for our own good, and… well, this is why I’m so conflicted.
To be fair, many of the aged care home residents I’ve met seem to be having a ball. Rather than being stuck in their own homes, where they’d be alone most of the time and everyday tasks are a challenge, they’re in a social whirl, a kind of octogenarian version of Paris in the 1920s.
It’s the late-in-life equivalent of those beautiful days in our late teens and early twenties where we spend every living moment with our peers and friends, and it can be ours again if we move to aged care homes.
Except that most of our friends are likely to be in different aged care homes. But still, in places like that, you’ll never be short of bridge partners, which I’m sure is a wonderful thing. I haven’t had a decent game of cards in years.
An hour or so after I walk out the door of an aged facility, I’m back to being self-absorbed again. But there’s always a transitional period in between my concern for whether my relatives are enjoying life and the resumption of my usual narcissism, a sort of halfway point where I wonder, in a brief flowering of empathy – how would I cope with their situation?
The answer, generally, is not very well. The average aged care home is located somewhere very quiet, in a nice suburban street, and while I’m all for soundproofing, I can’t imagine wanting to live somewhere that far from things like cafés, shops, theatres and cinemas. I’d much rather live a short mobility scooter ride away from a multiplex, ideally one with an amusement arcade attached. I fully expect to go almost daily, especially if they have Street Fighter XXIII.
I remember once seeing Gough Whitlam, in his nineties, sitting in a wheelchair at the opera. He seemed utterly captivated, and I thought – wow, that’s something to aspire to.
By the time I’m that old, the bands I like will probably all be dead and buried, but I’m happy to be wheeled to any You Am I or Blur covers band I can find. So I’d like my aged care home to be in the inner city, please. I’d gladly park myself somewhere in a skyscraper, preferably above a mall, ideally one with yum cha.
My colleague Wendy Harmer wrote a piece a few years back that envisaged multiple generations living in the same tower blocks. Great idea, I reckon. My grandkids shouldn’t get away with monthly visits. I want them an express lift away, in an apartment whose entry system can’t be blocked against an annoying but doting old man.
Then there’s the food. Fewer steamed vegetables and roasts, and more exotic food, please. Thai, Italian, Mexican, and maybe a bit of my generation’s current favourite – gourmet fast food. Yes, we know pulled pork and duck fat fries will reduce our lifespan, and we are more than happy to make that deal, thanks.
And let’s not forget the decor. I understand that for most of my grandparents’ generation, floral still-life paintings and redwood furniture topped with white lace is the very definition of niceness. But for my aged home, I’d like stainless steel, please, and a bit of warehouse chic, maybe some groovy exposed brick. Pop art on the walls, ideally via massive hi-def screens that rotate through Lichtenstein, Warhol and maybe a bit of Jeff Koons to keep us on our toes. Classic movie posters would be another option – maybe Pulp Fiction or A Clockwork Orange? Not especially soothing, admittedly, but the posters would remind all of us of our share houses many decades ago.
I realise that all these requests may make me seem like a massive tosser. Fine – give me an aged care home I can share with the other tossers, where people can come and talk to us about pretentious European holocinema,. It’ll be amazing.
I’m not exactly excited about getting old. And sometimes, I worry about being transported to the aged care homes of today, stuck in a bingo game that will never end or trapped in a giant doily.
But I don’t think our tastes shift all that much as we age. So the aged care homes of the 2050s will surely be fairly different to the ones that cater so well to today’s aged customers.
In the end, I’m pretty confident that if you give me a big screen, speakers hooked up to a streaming service, a comfy reclining bed and fast internet access, I’ll be as happy as can be.
Oh, and some freshly-baked muffins. Some things never change.