Europe’s population is living longer than ever before, and with ageing populations come major economic and social challenges.
By 2050, increasingly lengthy life spans and slumping birth rates will mean that Europe’s workforce will decrease by 38 million, while those aged 65 and over will rise by 40 million.
Al Jazeera’s special series on Europe’s ageing population features first person accounts, like the one below, from those encountering the challenges of ageing.
|David Cass, 62|
I will be 63 next week and I suffer with early Alzheimer’s disease.
I also have a number of other problems which confine me to a wheelchair and I am breathing Oxygen 24/7.
Before all of this happened, I was a very fit man. I was a successful model designer and manufacturer and have a number of international awards to my name.
In 1994, I was the victim of a vicious attack by five men which left me with head and other debilitating injuries. I mention this because I believe it to have some bearing on what was to happen to me during the years following this event.
During the early years of the new century I was hit by a series of debilitating illnesses which knocked me for six and I finished up in a wheelchair.
During this period, starting from the time of the attack, I started having shooting pains in my head, like electrical discharges – very painful!
I was also falling about and having periods of time when I lost all memory of quite distinct areas of my life. My head became like a sieve. I kept forgetting where I had put things, and among other things, I couldn’t hold a sensible conversation much of the time.
I asked my doctors for help but was sent away with a flea in my ear, being accused of “swinging the lead” and told that “everybody forgets things”, “it’s all in your mind” and “go away, stop wasting our time”.
Needless to say I was becoming more and more frustrated and became progressively worse.
Fortunately, my wife and I moved to a new area and this of course meant that I had to change to a new surgery and doctor. It was probably the best decision taken in many a long year.
If it were not for the actions of my current doctor I wouldn’t be here now.
He started the ball rolling with some cognitive tests which showed that something was clearly wrong with me. He contacted a consultant who visited me in my home, all within a short time.
I underwent further tests which ended with my being diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s disease.
Straight away I was put on the drug Aricept which has helped me considerably. At first, however, I was inwardly cursing and felt it was a burden, as I am already taking 60 tablets every day.
I soon came to realise that this wonderful drug was holding back the onset of the disease and improving my life.
You might ask how I feel with all of this. Generally I am full of good humour for I am a happy person and get on well with people. However, I have developed a ‘short fuse’ and don’t suffer fools gladly.
A few members of the medical profession discovered this after they destroyed my kidneys, treating my non-existent heart failure with Ace Inhibiters when I had and still have a very healthy heart.
I sometimes suffer from depression, and I do have a few reasons to get that way, but I have tablets for that and they are great at their job.
I also suffer chronic pain throughout my body as a lasting legacy of the attack, requiring huge amounts of very strong pain killers.
My hands also suffered. I could not even hold a knife and fork and until just a few weeks ago had to be spoon fed by my carers.
‘Angels of mercy’
I must speak about my carers as without them I would be having a truly terrible life – they are my ‘angels of mercy’.
There is my wife Joanne, who is the love of my life, my mentor, nurse, friend and very much more!
Linda is also my friend, as are Rose, Yvonne, Francine and Norah. They are all such wonderful people without whom I could not function. They bathe me, feed me, dress me and escort me when I have to go out (I am not allowed out on my own as it is not safe for me). They cook my meals for me and so much more. They are wonderful.
I could tell you of all the trials and tribulations that we had getting disability recognition, housing, a care package and so on, but this would serve no real purpose now. We finally got these things together having fought hard for every bit of ground, but we got there in the end.
Apart from my carers we would have been in serious trouble but for the girls at the Alzheimer’s Society who have been so helpful with dealing with officialdom and their personal kindness. Anyone who contracts this disease needs to contact them, they will take a great load from your shoulders with no pressure on you.
I also have my faith which I feel strongly. I am a member of the Salvation Army and take great comfort in the knowledge that I have their full support, especially in time of need.