Royal College of Nursing new exhibition on care for older people shows age really is just a number

Press Release 11/04/2019

A new exhibition at the Royal College of Nursing shows how the way we care for older people has changed over the last 200 years, shifting from workhouses, institutions and care homes and into the 21st century.

“Aspects of Age” starts with the problematic history of admitting older people into workhouses, through to changes in hospital care in the mid-twentieth century and into the more enlightened care we see today, where more people are looked after in their own homes.

Exhibits include original Royal College of Nursing pamphlets on how to care for older people and how to set up a nursing home, an enamel bedpan and cup from 1914 on loan from the British Red Cross Museum and Archive, and a  ‘certificate of character’ for a workhouse nurse from 1912.

On loan from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society museum, are specimens of ‘sea skink’ from the late 18th century. These small lizards were believed to have aphrodisiac properties and were reported to ‘restore warmth in old age and decays of nature.’ There is also an original packet of Viagra from when it was first licensed in 1998.

Improvements in the way older people are treated have led to increased life expectancy meaning today many older people continue to live full and engaging lives – travelling, playing sport, finding new relationships, volunteering in the community into their 80’s and beyond.

The exhibition also acknowledges that despite all the improvements and innovation things may still not be perfect for all and poses the question ‘in an ageing population, how much have we learned from the attitudes of the past?’

Dawne Garrett, RCN Professional Lead for Care of Older People and Dementia said:

“The way we care for older people in society has been transformed over the last 200 years.  From the dark days of the Victorian workhouse to the modern healthcare we have today, the lives of older people have genuinely changed.

“Older people today enjoy active lives that would have seemed unimaginable even fifty years ago.

“Our exhibition takes people through these developments and gives a true flavour of the way we care for older people today. Hopefully it will help inspire even better care in the future.”

The exhibition is accompanied by a series of events exploring aspects of age in more detail. These include the RCN’s first Death Café in May and a panel discussion on ‘Sex Beyond 70’ in September. For full details of these and other events visit  


Notes to editors

The exhibition runs at RCN HQ in Cavendish Square, London 11 April – 20 September




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