We all know people are living longer than they were and that care has become a real issue in society.
Clients often come to see us to find out more about care costs and of course cost is a very real problem. However, perhaps even more important than the cost, is the quality of the care that will be, is being, or that was received. Many agree that this period in the later stages of a person’s life, and immediately after death, needs some major rethinking, and indeed, redesigning.
In April this year, Marie Curie launched their Design to Care programme. The programme is being led by Dr Stephen Barclay from the University of Cambridge and will involve palliative care specialists and design engineers from the University together with the Art and Design Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University.
According to Alice Rawsthorn, a design critic, ‘analysing the strengths and weaknesses of present systems and rituals with an open mind, and applying grace, foresight, rigour, sensitivity and imagination to envisaging better outcomes could help us to die more humanely.”
Designers have already recognised the positive impact they could have in this field and recent additions to the market include a device that releases scents that reminds people with Alzheimer’s Disease to eat, a music app for grieving adolescents and a digital service that helps mourners deal with administrative tasks.
Competitions have also been used to encourage new ideas, with one, organised by the magazine Designboom, seeing the winning entry of a highly biodegradable coffin that turns a deceased’s remains into a tree.
Nick Jehlen, a partner in a small design agency in America, first got involved in this marketplace after a conversation with a number of hospice nurses a few years ago. There was one thing that really struck him. The nurses told him it was very clear when people arrived at the hospice, which families had acknowledged and talked about death, and which had not. The nurses told him that it was much easier to help the families who had talked about death already.
As a firm, Miller Sands took part in a Death Café event in Cambridge in May earlier this year. Death Café groups, founded in London a few years ago, now total more than 1,400 in at least 26 countries and simply encourage people to get together over tea to discuss death. Having attended the event in Cambridge myself, I can say that it was a fantastic forum for people to talk about death without risk of ridicule or dismissal. It was, I thought, particularly helpful for single people, who cannot discuss their fears, wishes and hopes with a partner.
According to Marie Curie, the UK population over 65, will be 17.8 million by 2037. That is a 50% increase. The fact that people are living longer means that they will likely need caring for longer and will have medical issues to manage for longer. These days, many people live far away from their families, we also live in an increasingly secular society, where many older people live solitary lives with little practical or spiritual community support. As Marie Curie recognises, we are not cared for in the same way as we once were and our needs are different. With their ambitious programme, they hope to create an entirely different perception and experience of death and care. One that encourages openness and conversation about death for a start.
Like the nurses at the hospice, I see many people who are elderly and sick and not far away from the end of their physical lives. Powers of Attorney and Wills can be critical to prepare at this stage of life and again, like the hospice nurses, if people have thought about and talked about these things as soon as possible and well in advance of coming to see me, it makes it a lot easier for me to help them. I hope this legal aspect is not forgotten in the redesign of care.
If you or a loved one would like to make an appointment to discuss any legal matters in relation to the above issues, please contact Miller Sands.
Miller Sands © September 2017