Fun-guarding: When my time comes
As a geriatrician working with older people in a variety of settings, I have started to think about how I myself would like to be looked after when my time comes. At the moment, fun features quite strongly in my life, and I hope my later years will be no different.
Many things give me joy and I’m reflecting on which ones I need to mention to my children for the time when that Power of Attorney needs to be invoked.
They will need to weigh up on the scales of life whether the benefits of an activity outweigh the burdens.What are the risks of going on a trip to the theatre? And what are the benefits? What would fit with my previous choices? There will be downsides to taking on fun activities, but we mustn’t let them stop us doing them!
Picking a few of my favourite activities to pursue into advanced old age, I will list trips to the theatre, eating and drinking, going to concerts and sporting events as things I’d like to continue. But I’d also like to keep going with simpler pleasures like petting my cats, and snuggling up with them on a wet day in front of the fire. I’d like to keep on playing music and taking exercise, though I may need to adapt what I do when I get more frail.
I’d also like to do new things though too. One of my favourite films is 'Yes Man' from 2008. The key character, played by Jim Carrey, learns that by saying 'yes' to things that sound a bit difficult or risky, his life is enhanced beyond measure. I’d like to be like that... I don’t know yet what I’m going to say yes to, but I’m sure it’ll be fun!
Will they or I need to sign disclaimers for any of these activities? I really hope not. There are some risks inherent in all of life’s activities, and I certainly don’t want to find myself in an institution with an obsession about risk assessments. Indeed, maybe a little bit of risk is a good thing? Or perhaps it’s not so much about risk as doing things that people don’t expect you to? My brother was a wheelchair user as a result of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and he loved to do things no one thought he could do. We lived in suburban London growing up and my Dad created a series of adventures for Iain as a boy so that he too could have fun and create memories for the darker days. Their favourite activity was to plan train trips to far away places, meticulously calculating whether the connections would work, always living with that frisson of excitement that it could all go horribly wrong and they would end up stuck somewhere far from home.
We still talk about how he and my Dad used to turn up at South Croydon station and ask for a “Day Return to Oban please!” loving the expression on the counter clerk’s face as he realised their request. There are many tales of Iain, my Dad and their friend Peter, himself severely visually impaired, but a strong pair of teenage arms and legs for wheelchair pushing, careering across central London overground to make some tight connection, intermittently bouncing on and off the pavement as they raced along. I don’t think many of Iain’s adventures would have passed a stringent risk assessment. He loved the day he was the “last thing on four wheels” to cross the Passage du Gois causeway to the Isle de Noirmoutier in France, the waves lapping around his chair.
When I’m older, I want to be mischievous too. I want to do things that people aren’t supposed to do at that age. I want to be like my brother was when he and his supporters pushed the boundaries on a regular basis. I think it can be done, too. I have many pictures of my grandparents, who lived to the ripe age of 98. My favourite one is of my Grandpa when he was 90, rolling down a grassy bank with my three year old daughter in the grounds of the hotel where they were celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. It was a formal occasion with speeches and everyone was dressed in their party best. They were hooting with laughter and egging each other on to go faster! I want to be like that when I’m 90 too...
So I’m hoping that when I enter my later years, whether in a care home or attending a day centre, people will be around to offer me fun experiences that I can say YES to! There will be risks, there will be challenges, but there will also be exhilaration and pleasure. People will say that I shouldn’t be doing that kind of thing at my age, but I will get that sense of mischief and naughtiness that keeps us alive inside. I will ask my Powers of Attorney to pay attention as much to fun-guarding as they do to Risk Assessing, and maybe they might even join me on some of my adventures!