JENNIFER BAUMEISTER

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Less than 20% of elderly people live with their grown up children and only 5% live in hospitals and old people's homes. Many elderly people become isolated and lonely and seem to have difficulty in maintaining social relationships, partly due to the deterioration in physical and mental health which can be part of the aging process. In addition many elderly people have to cope with multiple bereavements, the loss of status and relationships with colleagues which can come with retirement and the lack of appropriate and affordable travel opportunities. In spite of this a lot of older people invest a lot of time and energy on friendships and family, trying to find new friends in centres and clubs. The elderly can be easy to ignore in a society obsessed with youth culture and of the Western taboos on death and aging can mean that issues of great concern to them are not addressed in wider society Elderly people can feel marginalized by a world which sees them merely as the stereotype of the frail, old, dependant person, who can't make decisions without help. There has been a shift in the ways in which Western culture responds to and views older people whereas in some cultures it is still common for them to be treated with respect, dignity and honour this seems to be decreasingly the case in the developed world.

Five women, who live in various old people's homes in Berlin, talk about their lives, contact with other residents, their loneliness and their fears. The audience can see films (taken by a still camera) that show the women's beds (on five different television screens, which are placed on plinths, 1.20m in height. Each room has its own 'voice' - the voice of the woman who actually lives in it. The women talk alternately and the audience sees still images of the women's beds - a very private yet here public space. The lack of personal space is thus underlined.
The audience has to mingle with the women's lives in a small room, experiencing their loneliness, the endless amount of time they have to deal with, and the sense of waiting for something indefinable.

A "home" is "meant" to be a place of love, family and privacy, thus an old people's home can be seen as a subversion of the very idea of 'home'. The people who care are paid for it, what many take for granted as being private becomes public. The people who live here come from different origins, they have differing educations, experiences and are interested in different things. Apart from the time we spend in school, it is only in such institutions we find such a variety of characters forced to live together. An added aggravation for many is the fact that the residents - due to their age, often have such ingrained habits, opinions and attitudes that it is hard for them to engage in new activities. Apart from a few exceptions, elderly people seem to experience great difficulties in adapting to new communities such as these homes. Many of them become anxious and distrustful. One thing which especially struck me was the difference between the women who had had jobs and lives outside of their houses, had active social lives, hobbies or had done a lot of travelling, and those who had been exclusively housewives and mothers all their life. The more independent the women had been during their lives, the less problems they seem to experience in dealing with new people and situations. In most cases the women in nursing homes are lonely and do not take part in any activities apart from watching TV. They just seem to wait and this doesn't just apply to those whose disabilities render many activities impossible. When one enters an old people's home one first notices a possibly uncomfortable, hospital like air. All the rooms are very similar to each other remind one again of hospitals or prison cells.
"I talked to a range of female residents in different homes and tried to reflect both the trepidation, compassion and the fun that I experienced, and the frugality, the sadness, the anger, and the warmth of the people I interviewed. In this work I aim to open the doors of these frequently disregarded, unfamiliar places to the outside world."

 

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