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The Leveson Centre for the study of Ageing, Spirituality and Social Policy

A Survival Guide to Later Life:

How to Stay Healthy, Happy, Mobile and in Control,
Marion Shoard, Robinson paperback, 644 pages,
ISBN 1-8411–9372-0, £9.99.

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Review by James Woodward (Director, the Leveson Centre)

Is the Church of England really bothered about older people? Do we understand their needs? Can our churches play a part in enabling older people to embrace diminishment positively and make a spiritual contribution to ministry and mission?

Archbishop Carey in an interview for Readers Digest before his appointment to Canterbury told his readers that the church today seemed rather like a very old grandmother who sat by the chimney breast muttering to herself, ignored by the rest of the family and out of touch with its culture. He hoped that the church would become progressively younger as it was re-evangelised by the gospel. This understandable desire for renewal and necessary emphasis on younger people has, at every level of church life, had the effect of marginalising and alienating older people. Perhaps our grandmothers are the churches’ natural spiritual constituency? Perhaps the church might take a lead in supporting and affirming this growing group in society?

This book deserves to find its way into our reading groups and conversations about pastoral care and mission. It is a triumph of the mastery of a vast quantity of complex information. It has a passion and an energy which emerge out of the writer’s own experience of looking for help from others following her own mother’s need for care.

Organised into eight parts with 21 chapters the book deals with every aspect of later life. Part one describes some of the problems of mind and body for older people. The essentials of the machinery of support provided for older people are set out in part two, The Care Machine. The next section of the book (Parts three, four and five) is organised chronologically, following the developing stages of ageing. Part three suggests ways in which the older person can live independently and happily at home. Part four explains how a care home might be chosen and how to prepare for entry and to make sure that life inside it is as enjoyable as possible. Part five tackles the contentious topics of ageist discrimination and withholding life-sustaining treatment. Part six deals with some of the problematic financial aspects of provision and benefits. Part seven (Representation) steers the reader through the world of powers of attorney. Part eight deals with the unrecognised and undervalued issue of carers. There is a very useful and comprehensive section called Useful Contacts directing the reader to more detailed and specialised support.

Do not imagine that this is in any way a tedious self-help book. It is well organised, well written with a powerful grasp of the questions, complexities and feelings around old age. I shall be recommending it to all kinds of people who simply need to think differently about older people and their own processes of ageing. This reviewer discovered no inaccuracies, though inevitably there are areas of repetition. My only criticism is that ironically, the book is not easy to read (typeface) or be handled (size and shape of book) by older people. It is difficult to know how this might have been remedied.

We should look at the ways in which our churches marginalise, disempower and devalue older people, their lives and experiences. I hope that at the Leveson Centre we can respond to the questions and challenges posed by this book and our own attitudes to older people.

James Woodward (Director, the Leveson Centre)

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