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How did it come to this?

PUBLISHED: 08:31 03 September 2010 | UPDATED: 09:50 16 September 2010

AN early memory is being told to give up my seat on a bus up to an elderly man.

Grey-haired and thin, he was bent and leaning on a stick as he padded along the aisle.

AN early memory is being told to give up my seat on a bus up to an elderly man.

Grey-haired and thin, he was bent and leaning on a stick as he padded along the aisle.

He accepted my offer with a jaunty bow and endured his trip from south Lowestoft into town with the eyes of a fanciful seven-year-old boring into his face trying to figure out his age. 99? 105? He didn't seem to mind.

Looking back he was probably only about 65 but he seemed ancient. Wise with a lifetime of stories.

Had he been a dashing war fighter pilot, a trawlerman, a spy or like Private Pike in the Home Guard - Dad's Army was all the rage then?

Old people were special then. We were brought up to respect old age.

The white hair and wrinkled cheeks of retirement held wonder for the young - for the life they had led, the wisdom they had picked up along the way, their sheer longevity. It was all admired and they were cared for as their infirmity grew.

No one thought twice about giving up their seats or making way for them to pass, affording them the dignity they deserved.

No one ridiculed old age, lost patience with dodderiness or wished them out of the way. We liked and cherished the elderly.

But like giving up seats on buses - I wonder if primary school children now would know to stand up for the aged - attitudes have shifted.

Dismissive has replaced respect and advanced years are approached with dread with fears of poverty, loneliness, indifference and rejection. Neglecting our elderly and shoving them out of the way to die is a matter of great shame.

In an increasingly ageing society, one of the biggest “crimes” is to be old. Botox plumps out wrinkles, hair dye covers grey. Ageing is shaming. There is no excuse.

So it's hidden. We want old people to be invisible, make no demands, to keep out of the way.

But growing old is the one thing we all do.

Younger fitter people will huff and puff behind us as dawdling pensioners shuffling along or searching for our purses in a shop queue.

We'll be the “old biddies” or “granddads” - in the most derogatory sense.

Elderly people are being left to starve on NHS hospital wards, a report revealed this week, with 239 patients dying of malnutrition in hospital in 2007, charity Age UK found.

Nearly 180,000 patients left hospital malnourished in 2008/9.

No one has the time or patience to feed them. Why bother? They're old and going to die anyway? Plates of food are dumped in front of old people unable to sit up and hold a fork let alone feed themselves so they don't eat.

They waste away, emaciated, listless but no one notices. Nurses are busy. There's no one else unless family members come in to feed them.

How appalling that no one cares enough to notice an old woman is skin and bone and fading away

It's not 'the system' that treats our elderly in such a disgusting way; it's people.

Professionals paid to care for them.

Ageing has become a condition no one wants. It's unpalatable, embarrassing even, and those afflicted by it are being deprived of love, care, respect and dignity.

Wives, husbands, fathers, mothers, grandmothers, no longer seen as individuals but as the collective 'elderly' that no one wants to be.

How did it come to this?

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