Belfast Telegraph

Let's make modern life more bearable for the elderly

Grace Dent

On March 29, Anne – we know only her first name – killed herself because she was fed up with modern life. She was 89 and not terminally ill – just terminally sick of email and irritated by the rise of ready-meals. She fretted about the environment and thought the internet had made us all "robots". I know how she felt.

What intelligent person doesn't log on to their computer from time-to-time, staring at the sea of work demands, nags, passive-aggressive reminders and sponsorship begging, only to dream of a bygone age where people contacted us by second-class post?

Modern life can be horrific. But because I am young – okay, 40 – modern life can also be incredible. It's full of WhatsApp chats, dancing to Destiny's Child at 3am, long-haul holidays, and, not least, it's filled with full-time work, which fools me into feeling I have great world-changing purpose.

It seems that Anne, being 89, didn't have as many of the good bits. The silly bits and the purposeful bits had evaporated, so she ended up drink- ing a lethal cocktail of barbiturates at a Dignitas clinic and passed away.

When Anne was younger she was a Royal Navy engineer and had also taught art. Her pre-death interview indicates that she was an erudite woman, not in pain, who was in fact killing herself because she was bewildered and deflated by an ever-changing world.

She sounds to me depressed. I'd prefer Citalopram, not organised suicide, for the elderly. We cannot, I feel, condone suicide for elderly people who are just a bit sick of it all.

I have quietly supported assisted suicide for years. I haven't loudly supported it, because giving an increasingly free hand to people like Dignitas in an age of worldwide rising mental-health problems always felt precarious. It is difficult to watch a documentary such as Louis Theroux's Edge Of Life – involving dying cancer patients – and feel that a little help in pushing people kindly into "that good night" is wrong.

But elderly, downcast people who just can't see the point? They should be cheered up, made to feel included, cherished and, yes, if needs be, medicated for their mood dips.

As family members become elderly, the journey is tricky. Increasingly, one becomes the adult and they become the child. They become stubborn and at times unable to be reasoned with.

You become infuriated, they become isolated. Once proud, diligent people become increasingly likely to let burglars into their house, to respond to telephone scams, to stop feeding and caring for themselves, and now, in Anne's case, people are planning their own suicide, because they are sick of the rise of emails.

In Anne's request to Dignitas, she referred to her lack of energy and she said that declining health had left her with "a life with no enviable future". I have a dream about what an old folks' home might be like when I reach the age of 89. It's a jolly, stimulating place where a load of us old gits watch Mad Men and Seinfeld. There will be nice snacks.

There's a music room for us all to bring vinyl and jabber on about our days of clubbing, as we all have a bit of a laugh before popping off – one by one – to the infinite, heavenly nothing.

I'm sorry that Anne didn't feel like that. And I hope that others won't copy her.

Belfast Telegraph


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