By Janet Davies.
Considering the various care options in old age.
Imagine waking every day to silence and solitude; too weary or unwell to make breakfast or run a bath and dress properly. Imagine being too frail to walk to the supermarket when you run out of milk, bread and other essentials – and too unsteady to drive there. Imagine living without meaningful conversation all day – or even wondering when you’ll next see a friendly face.
It’s not something any of us wants to face but sadly, for a great swathe of Britain’s elderly population, there’s no need to imagine this scenario, it is simply the reality of daily life. And spare a thought too for the offspring of the elderly, often the daughters, who worry about how parents can best be helped and looked after.
Statistics from Age UK reveal that 2 million people over 75 now live alone, and 1.5 million of these are women. And, whilst not everyone battles with ill-health and poverty, it’s fair to say that almost all older people – particularly the very old – the 1.5 million people who are aged 85 or over – will encounter serious health issues at some point.
During the last decade, the number of centenarians in Britain has risen by 73 per cent, although the UK population is aging more slowly than in other comparable Western countries. So, the colossal challenge for society has to be, how to keep quality of life in step with quantity.
Now imagine a different scenario, one of being greeted every morning in a bright and airy bedroom, to a cup of tea and a choice of healthy and tasty breakfast options, to chatting with friends over a morning coffee, and going for a stroll in pretty gardens, perhaps being taken shopping, or to the cinema, or out for afternoon tea. This lifestyle is also a reality for thousands of older people who are thriving happily in care homes.
Dare to think it – care options in old age have changed considerably in recent years and care homes that resemble luxury hotels are no longer the sole preserve of the wealthy.
But regardless of affordability, it’s quite a leap for many people to imagine being happy in one at all. Care homes continue to suffer from a serious image problem. Most of us have this vision in our heads of what we think such a place looks like; drab colours, TV on loud, blank faces watching from plastic-covered upright chairs, sitting in a ring of doom. The place smells of wee and cabbage and as for the food, it’s beyond bland.
However, what you are often more likely to find now is home from home, luxurious residential and nursing care, where people can enjoy en-suite bathrooms, flat screen televisions, DVD players and mini-fridges in their rooms.
In social areas, there are lounges, coffee bars, restaurants and cinema rooms, and for people who like gardening, many care homes have built raised flower beds so that residents can continue to enjoy their hobby. This isn’t a pipe dream, or even a rarity these days. It is fast becoming the norm.
However, nobody would deny that this kind of care home comes with a high price tag. I believe we need a paradigm shift in our thinking, particularly where property is concerned.
We need to stop seeing going into a care home as a something of a crisis, and treat it like any other life stage, ie, one that should be planned for in advance and sorted. Forward planning, while people are relatively young and healthy, working with a specialist adviser to maximise options and create a template for how older people (and their children later on) want to live when the time comes, makes a world of difference.
The other thing we need to do – and this idea doesn’t always win friends – is to stop being precious about property. Of course homes are full of memories and a lifetime’s treasures, but they are also a fantastic currency, that can fund old age, making one’s final chapter happy and fulfilling.
But for people who really can’t accept selling the family silver, there are deferred payment schemes, so there is always a way – but it’s complicated and professional advice is essential.
In the end, it’s about being proactive and removing the fear (and guilt) factor for the whole family. We’re a long way from that at the moment, but it will change over time; it has to, because the state simply won’t (and cannot) bail people out in old age.
A recent UK government-backed study by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) revealed some grim statistics of its own when it was widely reported that core services like Meals on Wheels are being axed in some areas, and that only 8 per cent of requests for care resulted in long term care being provided whether at home, or in a care home setting.
The message is clear; people power is the name of the game. Being brave, open-minded and above all practical about growing old is where it’s at if people are to embrace their autumn years.
Further information is available at www.clubsymponia.org.
You may also like Parents and Alzheimer’s – Who’s The Child Now?, When Roles Reverse – Looking After Older Parents, Caring For Elderly Parents – Best To Plan Ahead.
Janet Davies is the joint founder and managing director of Symponia, a family business that was launched in 2005 to provide specialist financial advice for elderly people and their families looking for care fees funding solutions. Janet has seen the care industry from several angles, having been a nurse before focussing on financial planning and latterly becoming a mentor for other care fees advisers. Janet lives and works in Shakespeare’s country with husband and business partner Jeremy and their trio of beautiful cats.