Category Archives: Health


In recent years, we have all become conscious of the hidden army of people known as ‘carers’ (‘caregivers’ in the US).

These are the people who look after a frail (or confused) family member or friend. They may be daughters (or sons) looking after an elderly parent or, perhaps, a sibling. Or they may be spouses looking after one another.

Parents of disabled children are also described in this light. These are frequently older women, but they can be of any age or either gender. Even children under 18 sometimes find themselves in this role.

You may well know someone in this circumstance, or it may be you. We all feel for them, as caregiving is a difficult situation. It can take over one’s entire life, especially if the carer is living with the person they care for and get little respite.

The Carer I Knew Best

I became aware of the existence of carers when I was relatively young, because my husband’s favourite aunt was one. She had found herself in the traditional role (in England) of the youngest daughter who never married but stayed home to look after her increasingly frail mother.

She was not relieved of those responsibilities until her mother died, when she was already in her late 40s and rather worn down.

In her case, perhaps unusually, she blossomed soon after. She married a very nice older widower and began to substitute regular visits to church to equally regular visits to the pub.

They moved to a new house and she had a good life for many years until he suffered a stroke and she became a carer all over again.


But there is another category of people who are not the principal carer and so are almost completely overlooked – namely, what I would call ‘semi-’ or ‘supplementary’ carers. These are an even larger group of people whose lives are affected by someone who is physically or mentally ill or disabled.

Despite my familiarity with the pressures of being a principal carer, it never occurred to me that many other people can also be caught up in the web created by illness and disability.

This awakening came when my daughter-in-law was diagnosed with cancer not long after her baby son was born. (I hasten to say she is fine now.)

Of course, my son had to take on all sorts of responsibilities not normally expected of a young husband and father. But so, too, did many other family members.

My husband and I became very active baby-sitters and general helpers-out. We set up our house with all the accoutrements of babyhood – baby bed, highchair, baby clothes and so forth, so that he could come to us on short notice.

It was tiring and affected all sorts of decisions, such as whether to travel far from home. When I mentioned it to my doctor, he said immediately, “Yes, cancer affects the whole family – that is well known.”

In retrospect, it was not difficult to provide the help that we did, but it was difficult never knowing when we could be needed. Whatever our plans for the day, a phone call could arrive at any time asking us to come now. Your own life gets put slightly ’on hold’.

Indeed, I am not asking for sympathy, as being required to help to look after a small baby is a mixed blessing. Yes, it put pressures on us that had not existed before, but it also brought the pleasures of caring for a baby again. And it made us much closer to that grandchild, which has lasted over the years.

The Wide Impact of Illness

But my experience made me stop and think about how many people are so affected. Not simply by cancer, but by any form of long-lasting illness or disability.

Perhaps there is a need to provide food for a family, where the mother can no longer cook, or take on the role of driving the ill person to hospital appointments.

There can be a need to keep the household going in all sorts of ways, such as general provisioning or sorting out bills. Not to mention helping with the children, including the simple problem of getting them to school.

There is no ‘system’ to sort out these issues. Some countries provide more state help than others, such as paid carers who come in to help with washing and dressing. But when you remove one person from the equation of running a family, you immediately set up needs for all kinds of help.

Older Women

In these situations, there are always some family members (or friends) who are more willing to step in to help than others. Indeed, it is common for people to assume that where someone competent is on the case, there is no need to offer more help.

This, of course, puts more pressure on those who are willing to help and can be the source of considerable family tensions.

And it is often we, older women, who find ourselves doing what we can. Perhaps it is because we have more time and fewer responsibilities of our own, especially if our children are grown up and we are no longer working.

But what starts as ‘just helping out a bit’ can easily escalate into doing more and more. And we do have other things we want to do.

Does this all sound familiar? If you had such a request, are you someone who says, “Yes, of course,” without even thinking about it? These are fundamental issues, concerning how we feel about ourselves and our role in our families.

Semi-carers are not put upon in heavy ways. It is just normal, day-to-day activities that need to be factored into whatever plans there were before.

I would not go so far as to say they deserve some form of recognition, but if you have friends in this circumstance, I would urge you to acknowledge their contribution.


This was first published on (see


It is a well-known fact that we begin to lose our memories as we age. I’m not talking about serious conditions like dementia, but just day-to-day problems of bringing something to mind. Much of it isn’t too important, but occasionally it is.

Conversations with No Helpful Details

My conversations with my husband often go something like this:

“I saw that nice guy just now in the supermarket and said hello.”

“What guy?”

“You know, the one we met last summer on a boat – he was tall and very nice. Had a wife with red hair and I think there was a small dog.”

“Oh, yes, that guy. He was very nice. Are they living near here now?”


“Shall we go see that film that is on down the road?”

“What film?”

“You know, the one that was made by the same guy as that terrific film that had really good American actress in it. We really liked it.”

“Oh, yes, good idea. What time is it on?”

How many conversations take place among older couples that sound something like that? Never a name in sight – or any that really help. Anyone from outside would be really baffled. Yet we often know what we are talking about.

These conversations can be annoying, as we don’t always get the connection we want. They can, of course, go on a lot longer, but you get the idea.

But they are not the real problem.

Remembering the Vital Details

What really bothers me is when I can’t remember the really important facts that I should have at my fingertips. I am not talking about who was President in 1953 or what is the capital of Switzerland.

No, it is all those little personal facts that you ought to remember – but can’t. It can get you into trouble if you aren’t careful.

When we were younger, our friends had husbands and children and you could generally remember their names. You met them, after all, and knew something about them. You could picture them in your mind.

How Are the Grandchildren?

But now they have grandchildren who you’ve never met. They’ve talked loads about them, of course, but your memory isn’t what it was, and you lack the visual framework.

It is so hard to keep up. How many did they have? From which children? And wasn’t there one with a problem, but which one and what was the issue?

You meet for the occasional chat and try to re-make contact. Didn’t this friend have a daughter with twin boys? Or was that someone else? Were they born a long time ago or are they still small? Time goes so fast they are probably older than you think.

Well, you can usually find a way of saying “I’m sorry, but I can’t remember the names of your grandchildren,” which gives leeway for age, sex, and number. And which child had what children when. Sorting that out will get you back on track.

How Are the Children?

But it gets harder, especially about those near and dear to them. Take their grownup children, whose lives you have heard a lot about over the years. You haven’t seen them for ages or, perhaps, ever.

You have a vague memory that there was some problem in the past that you were told about. Was there a son with a messy marital problem – did they get divorced or sort it out? Or was it the daughter? You should know, but it has completely gone from your head.

Or was it a work problem? Did they get fired or made redundant? Little details can be very important. It looks thoughtless to have forgotten.

Perhaps you can get by with “How is that son of yours getting on?” and hope that covers all contingencies. With luck, you won’t have to reveal your forgetfulness.

The Parents

But then comes the killer. You are friends with an older couple who you don’t see often, and you cannot for the life of you remember whose parents are still alive.

You can’t say “How’s your father doing?” if he died two years ago in difficult circumstances. But you don’t want to offer condolences if the man is in rude health.

Two people means four parents. Oh dear. And this does matter to them. It’s not like the names of their grandchildren.

This happens more often than I like. I’ve never found a good solution, aside from keeping the conversation going long enough and hoping it comes up naturally. Sometimes, a friend will say, “After my father died….” And I breathe a big sigh of relief.

What Seems Like a Good Solution

One should probably keep a notebook for all such information – little lists of children, grandchildren, and what they are all up to. And – definitely – the deaths of parents. It would make conversations a whole lot easier.

But, if it is any consolation, remember there is a good chance that your friends have the same problem as you do.

This post was initially published on (see

Yoga – Waking up Your Body


Have you ever thought of trying yoga? Perhaps your daughter does it, but you think you are too old. Perhaps you feel it requires you to look like the young and supple woman in this picture.

Think again. People of all shapes, sizes and ages can do yoga. It is not a matter of donning a leotard and aiming to look beautiful. No, it is a matter of using your body to gain improved strength and flexibility. And, just as important, feeling better.

And you will probably never be asked to do anything resembling this pose. Or, if you are really enthusiastic and practise frequently, who knows, you might move in that direction. But I have never gotten there.

Yoga and exercise

Years ago, when I thought I should be doing more exercise to keep fit, several friends suggested I try yoga. When I asked what happened there, I was told you went into odd poses and held them for awhile. This seemed a rather bizarre thing to do – and certainly appeared to have little to do with exercise. I did not pursue it at that time.

Well, how wrong could I be! Some yoga does involve a lot of movement and feels very much like an exercise class. The type I eventually went for is slow and purposeful, but my goodness, you do get your muscles exercised! You need to learn to separate being visibly active from being equally – but less visibly – so.

There is no question that yoga is a form of exercise. The strange postures are there for a purpose – to use all your muscles, both external and internal. You know that if you simply stretch your arms with all your might toward the ceiling, something inside begins to say ‘hello’. Yoga takes this many steps further by working your system all over.

The wider impact

The result is both subtle and profound. You will slowly begin to feel more supple (or ‘bendy’ as one friend put it). All sorts of day-to-day movements will become easier, which is both pleasing and practical. You may find your balance is better.

Indeed, you might well find yourself healthier, less prone to colds or other diseases, as your circulation improves. The yoga postures work on all your internal systems, so that they work better. And your breathing may be easier. Some say sleep improves.

But yoga is also much more than exercise. It puts you in touch with your own body – wakes it up and gives it a good shake – making you feel more in tune with its ways. You will rediscover the joys of actively using your body, rather than seeing it as something you carry around without thinking much about it.

Yoga has the effect of being both energising and relaxing at the same time. It requires so much concentration that you forget the things that are worrying you and feel much more refreshed as a result. The challenges it offers – little hills to climb one by one – create a sense of achievement, especially important as you age. You may even like yourself more as a result.

Getting started

We all know we should be doing more exercise of any kind, but it is definitely hard to get started. My husband found the best way to ensure he exercised was to put the ball, perhaps surprisingly, in my court. He now complains if I don’t nag him enough.

I started yoga because I had back problems. I had gone to an osteopath, whose ministrations would work for awhile, but then wear off after a week or two. She encouraged me to try yoga to get my body stronger, so that any changes she produced might last longer. The result was I got so much stronger, I didn’t need the osteopath anymore!

You may need a little push – or pull ­– of some kind. Talk to friends who do it and see if their enthusiasm gives you that added spur. And make it convenient. Having local classes can be a help. If not, there are some online courses – indeed, I know of one yoga programme that is specifically tailored for older people who have not done yoga before.

Go on, have a try. What do you have to lose?


Celebrating the simple things in life

I want to tell you about my day today. No, it wasn’t a bad day, the sort of day that we often want to talk about, when everything goes wrong. It was a good day, of the sort we much too often take for granted.

Here are a few tips for celebrating the simple things in life.

Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

This good day started with a good night’s sleep – not something I am able to achieve very often. We older women tend to complain to each other about our difficulties in getting to sleep – or the long hours in the early morning when we were awake. But a good night’s sleep, as we all know, is wonderful. You feel so completely refreshed.

Enjoying a Glorious Day

But the special thing was that it was a glorious day – sunny, blue skies, warm, but not too hot, with a gentle breeze.

It was the sort of day that makes people smile as they walk down the street. I went out for some errands and chatted to a neighbour, in part about the day and in part about the good things in our lives. She told me how she loved being retired, doing nothing, whereas I talked about how I love writing my books . We smiled together about how everybody is different!

I mentioned that I felt we took the good things a bit too much for granted.

Sharing with Grandchildren

But my ruminations on this issue had started two days ago. I had been walking down the street with my seven-year-old grandson, taking him to a doctor’s appointment. We had crossed a busy street and had held hands for the purpose, but he didn’t let go.

We walked for ages with his little hand in my bigger one, talking about whatever was on his mind. And I suddenly thought what a wonderful simple pleasure that is. That trusting child, feeling safe in your hands. What more can you ask?

And there are, of course, so many more joys associated with children. Watching an active toddler finally sleeping, watching a child of any age begin to understand something they had not understood before. We, as adults, can only sit back and marvel.

Eating Simple Food

And then there was lunch – for me, some tomatoes, cheese, good bread and a bit of yogurt flavoured with turmeric. Nothing fancy, but nonetheless fresh, healthy and delicious. And I then made some brownies, as my husband had asked for them. Now, there is a combination of ingredients that can hardly be bettered. And they came out well.

Appreciating Timeless Pleasures

The simple pleasures of a beautiful day, a trusting child, even food, have been the subject of many a poem, essay or other form of commentary, probably from the year dot.

But does it take getting older to really appreciate these pleasures? When you are younger, you are much more likely to rush. Yes, you say, it is a lovely day and then you rush on to your appointment or to collect your child from school or whatever it is that fills your time. You don’t really stop and just feel the moment.

You know you should, but on the whole, you don’t.

We can.

Visiting a Friend

And toward the end of the afternoon, I went to visit a friend in hospital. Like me, she does her best to keep herself fit, but she had the bad luck to have fallen and broken her femur. She had had surgery, loads of pain, pain killers, side effects from the medication and so forth. She smiled bravely, but it was clear she was not certain when she would get back to normal.

I walked back from the hospital, as the sun was low but still bright and buildings were glowing – my son calls this “the golden hour,” a new phrase to me – and realised I had missed the most important thing of all.

Simply being able to walk.

I sometimes think we need a wake-up call to appreciate the ordinary things in life.


This post was originally published by SixtyandMe: and should not be re-blogged


Talking about how I came to write and re-launch Life in a Hospice: AlzAuthors website


Some years ago, I was taken to a hospice by a friend, who happened to be doing an errand. I immediately felt that this was the kind of tranquil place where I wanted to spend time. Soon after, I began to volunteer at a local hospice every Saturday afternoon. I did so for four years.

This experience had a strong impact on me, lasting even to the present day. Death – as with birth – is a very special time and I felt privileged to help people, even in small ways, in their last days.

As I was a writer, I thought the views and experiences of hospice staff would make a fascinating book. I had developed a technique, based on the kind of research I did for a living, of creating books formed around the direct views of people acquired by long and intimate interviews. Like a television documentary, it allows people to talk directly to the reader.

I undertook 31 interviews in two hospices with a whole range of staff – nurses, doctors, chaplains, managers and even a very reflective cook. They talked about the many ways in which they tried to make patients’ last days peaceful and meaningful, about the impact of such work on their own lives and, most importantly, about what they gained personally from such work. Like myself, they often used the word ‘privileged’ for being with people at the end of their lives.

The resulting book, Life in a Hospice, was, in my humble view, the best I had ever written – and I anticipated that many people would be keen to read it. It was very well reviewed, there was an article in the Times newspaper about it and it was even Highly Commended by the British Medical Association, despite not being a ‘medical’ book at all. All this was hugely pleasing.

But, alas, the breadth of the readership was very disappointing. The book was bought by many hospices and others working in end of life care, but it never took off with the general public. I quickly realized there were two reasons. First, most people do not have my fascination with end-of-life care and, indeed, avoid thinking about anything to do with death. And, second, the book was much too expensive, the price having been set by its medical publisher

I couldn’t do anything to overcome the first problem, but I took back the rights to the book and re-launched it as a very inexpensive e-book ($3.75), so that anyone who wants to read it will not be deterred by the price. It is again receiving some good reviews on Amazon. I must admit I have never heard anyone say they were not deeply moved by it. A paperback version is in the works and will be published soon.

My one caveat for this website is that the hospices in my book did not cater for people with Alzheimer’s. I can only say that the attention to the very individual needs of patients would go far when it comes to people with dementia of any kind.

This was originally published on the Alzheimers Authors website:


Kind Cooking: the art of preparing food for sick people

Are you one of the many people who are looking after someone who is very ill? Perhaps a spouse, sibling, parent or friend? As you well know, it is a highly tiring and difficult task, however much it is undertaken with love.

You may be overloaded with advice, but I’d like to add a few thoughts about food.

Ill People Don’t Feel Like Eating

People who are ill rarely want to eat. Nothing looks good or tastes good and they just pick at whatever you put in front of them. And then they feel tired, have no energy and little chance to enjoy the days, months or, perhaps, years they have remaining

In the course of writing a book about end-of-life care, I interviewed a hospice cook who was devoted to encouraging ill people to eat. If they eat even a little, he said, they will have a much better quality of life.

Instead of sleeping all the time, he noted, they will be able to talk to family and friends – and, when needed, say their goodbyes. There may be unresolved issues and talking is important for laying these to rest. This is altogether better for the ill person and better for those looking after him or her.

Cooking from the Ill Person’s Point of View

The cook, with long experience, had many pointers to suggest. Give the ill person some choice wherever possible, as they will have so few areas in which they can exercise any sense of control.

Don’t overwhelm them with too much food; use small plates and small bowls so that what is offered looks an amount they could cope with. One small piece of meat, one small potato, something green or a small carrot for colour and it can look much more inviting. Herbs can add valuable taste for jaundiced appetites and can offset the effects of medication.

If possible, keep the preparation at a distance, as the smell of cooking can be very off-putting. See if you could borrow a neighbour’s kitchen if you want to cook something that takes time or has a powerful smell. People are often very eager to help.

Eating as a Social Occasion

Finally, the cook stressed the importance of making eating a social occasion. Talking and even laughing over food provides a welcome sense of life and normality. Sit down together and discuss the news of the day or something else of interest. Sometimes, a small amount of alcohol would not go amiss, depending on the drugs the person is on.

He was also keen to get people out of bed wherever possible. A table nearby, even with a tablecloth, can look much more inviting than the tiresome sick bed.

It’s Not Easy

Cooking for people who are very sick is not easy at the best of times. But these ideas provide some ways to make it more palatable for the patient and more satisfying for the cook.

This post was originally published by SixtyandMe (see and should not be re-blogged

Getting the motivation to exercise


A few months ago, my six-year old grandson really took me aback. “Granny”, he asked innocently enough, “would you do me a favour?”. I assumed he wanted a second biscuit and said “of course”. As one does. “Granny, would you and Granddad try really, really hard to stay healthy, because I want my children to know their great-grandparents?” Well, that was surprise. I promised to try. What else could one say?

Too much trouble

We all know that one means towards good health is exercise, but how often do we do anything about it?  It feels like so much trouble. Once now and again is fine, but doing it on a regular basis is something else altogether. There are so many excuses – a bad night’s sleep, someone coming for dinner, just don’t have the energy today. And so forth.  It’s easy to slip.  Believe me, I know.

And yet you know you should be doing something to keep yourself in good shape. They keep telling us this. You probably know what might be possible if only you could get off the sofa and go do it. How can we get the motivation?

Find something you really like

First, you need to find something you really like to do. In my case, this was difficult as I had no love of sports all my life. I was no good at any of it – indeed, I was the girl in my PE class who no one wanted on their team. I tried to avoid sports wherever possible. Not surprisingly, this continued well into adulthood.

What about you? Did you used to love tennis? Or swimming? Or dancing? Perhaps you just enjoy walking. Have a think if there is something that you could still do that you really like to do. Are there others who could go with you? All that would be a good start.

Other benefits

Second, you need to think about what additional pleasures you will get from the endeavour. If you have a friend who likes to swim, you could go together and have a chat afterwards. If you go to an exercise class, you might make new friends and expand your social life.

Or, like many of us, you may want to lose a little weight or improve your body tone. This will certainly be another secondary benefit. Or particular exercises may help to reduce certain pains, like those arising from arthritis. I got started on yoga, because it was recommended by an osteopath as a means of strengthening my painful back. I have now been doing it for over twenty years.

Third, you need to make it really easy for yourself to keep at it week after week. You need to find something that fits readily into your daily routine. Is the swimming pool nearby? Is there an obvious walk? Are there exercises you could do in your own living room?

The extra push

And finally, you may need an extra push. Setting a target will help, such as promising yourself that you will go to the gym twice a week. My husband thought up a very novel means – he blamed me for not nagging him. I can now nag with impunity and he is happy.

I’m not sure I can manage to fulfil my grandson’s ambition for me, as I am not so young. But I intend to keep trying.


Originally published on the website of British Seniors: