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Learning for the fourth age: Nourishment for older generations

The young, active and virile among you have it all to look forward to. But as we get older, we inevitably slow down and our body clocks grind to a halt. As this natural progression dawns among us we expect the best care from those around us. The state provides the best it can for our needs with compulsory state pensions and care facilities. 450,000 people make up the numbers of our care home population, a huge number of individuals who are left to live out their days in what should be exemplary physical care. What is sometimes overlooked is that mandatory thirst for mental stimulation that is central to human nature. If is an often neglected and unmentioned fact that the once active minds of our older generation are lacking this nourishment. The musicians, architects and sportsmen of days gone by can keep their treasured token memories of past success and happiness, but it can be left behind for a routine of TV, dinner and dominoes. This may seem a standard approach to the latter stages of life, but have we just been conditioned into believing this? What is needed is the same level of care that is given to our young children. The staff who work in your average home will often do as their title suggests and 'care', but that can sometimes only be on a physical level. It is an unfortunate situation, but bureaucratic and financial shackles wrapped around care homes mean that the residents don't get that beneficial one-on-one mental maintenance they need. Luckily, Sheffield has its own answer to this imbalance in an initiative that is driven to shine a light into the lives of people like this. Learning for the Fourth Age is a new pioneering charity that tirelessly works to bring joy and fulfilment to our senior citizens with an inspiring effort from a team of volunteers who are funded on a non-profit basis. Their work in care homes in Sheffield is an inspiring beacon of promise that serves to change the economics of a senior person's lifestyle for the better. Volunteers head into the homes and complete activities with a resident. They give them a one-on-one mentoring service, encouraging and dually completing tasks with the residents. This can range from arts and crafts to learning a foreign language or an instrument. A mentor assesses an individual's needs and provides them with all the assistance necessary for them to push forward. An artist who hasn't drawn in years due to ill health can expect an encouraging volunteer to sit and complete drawing exercises with them, and in time that person can continue his latest work with his newly found confidence, perhaps his first in 20 years. This is proven to produce a turnaround in the mental and physical wellbeing of residents, in some cases slowing the progression of dementia. At a time when the cost of care facilities is rising dramatically, a charity like this makes a vital difference. The government's care home model says people who own more than £22,250 in property and savings must finance most of their care themselves. For this amount of cash, it is not farfetched to expect the sort of care Learning for the Fourth Age provides. )

Next article in issue 36

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