The Commission for Improving Dignity in Care today published a draft report that highlights the importance of respecting the dignity of old people.

They are right. It is all too easy to make assumptions about older people, or to talk down to them.

This was brought home to me a long time ago by some young medical students in a hospital ward where I worked. One of the students tried to engage a patient – an old, rather deaf man – in conversation.

“Now then, dad, what did you used to do for a living?” he casually shouted in the old man’s ear.

“I, laddie, was a Professor of Medicine,” came the stern – and unexpected – reply.

It turned out the old man in front of them had been perhaps the foremost medical professor of his generation, and the author of a textbook almost every medical student owned in those days.

“Have you got my book?” he asked. “Well, bring it in and I’ll sign it for you.”

The next day, the six students each proudly possessed a signed copy of the professor’s book. And each book was inscribed with a note hoping the owner would remember for the rest of his professional life that the old were once young, productive members of  society. After that lesson, I’m sure they did.

It’s easy to fall into bad habits, but it is up to everyone to do our bit to preserve the dignity of older people.

And perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad to extend this to younger people too!

(To see and comment on the Commission for Improving Dignity in Care’s draft report, click here.)


Professor Brian Kirby, author of How to Live to 110: Your comprehensive guide to a healthy life.


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