The Pensioner’s Bulge

Claire RaynerClaire Rayner is president of the Patients Association and a nationally known author, journalist, broadcaster and agony aunt. After leaving home at 14 for a nursing job, she later trained as a nurse, won a gold medal for outstanding achievement in 1954, and studied midwifery before starting her writing career in 1960. She was the agony aunt on The Sun and Sunday Mirror and has written over 90 books about home nursing, family health, sex education, and baby and childcare. She believes passionately in standing up for patients.

We live in an ageing country. At the start of the 20th century most women could find a husband, and vice versa. Family sizes were fairly large – four, five or even six children per household was not unusual and even in small houses, grandparents lived with the family. Few people lived much later than about 70, a great many more only reached their sixties; 65 was set as Old Age Pension time because most people died well before.

Massive changes resulted from the two world wars. So many young men were swept away in a morass of mud and blood during WW1; a similar carnage, this time including women and children, occurred in WW2. Today’s pensioners grew up in a female-dominated world run by women whose potential spouses were dead… Our teachers were all single women; our hospital and district nurses were all single women; offices, shops and all sorts of institutions knew they could rely on hard-working female staff.

But enough men survived WW2 to come home and father the next generation and they did so with such enthusiasm, as did their wives, that the birth rate leapt. The Baby Bulge it was called – and it is now becoming a Pensioner’s Bulge.

This is the background to our current dilemma. People’s bodies and attitudes age less quickly. In the mid-Fifties, 40 was well into middle age. I had my first baby at 28, and was described by my midwife as ‘an elderly primipara’. Now, with IVF clinics working flat out, motherhood at 40-plus is not uncommon.

I offer this précis of what has happened to the population because of its huge importance to graduate nurses. You have to accept that most of your patients are likely to be very old. So many people in their seventies, eighties, and nineties, stay safely home now, with caring GPs and Community Nurses and family support. Those who are frail and need hospital care will be very dependent indeed.

If you are one of those who find helping to keep an incontinent old person clean a ‘menial’ task, you may need to change your career.

If you think it a waste of the time of a nurse educated to degree level to feed a helpless old patient, you too are in the wrong job.