Since January this year, I have been collecting some of the headlines in the press which relate to elderly people to get a sense of how they are currently perceived. If you have been reading this blog for some time, there will be no surprises here. The prevailing wind of press headlines, more often than not, blows in the direction of the burden that older people place on society. The NHS and Social Services are struggling under the weight of the older elderly and this comes through in many of the headlines.
Here are a few of the headlines that don’t offer a great outlook to older people:-
- “Rationing hearing aids is fuelling Alzheimer’s crisis
- “Hearing aid cuts linked to spreading dementia”
- “Loneliness is a devastating issue for a million”
These three headlines, although separately published, are related. Hearing impairment is probably the most common frailty amongst older people, which is also the least talked about ailment. Hearing loss is not a life threatening condition and is treated as something of a “Cinderella” service in the NHS. It is low down the list in terms of priorities for treatment and like dentistry, it is more often than not contracted out to the private sector, and ceases to be “free at the point of delivery”. The juxtaposition of these headlines inadvertently, but correctly, makes a link between hearing loss, loneliness and dementia. I believe all three things are closely related. I will say more about this subject in my next blog.
- “Council tax bills will rise to fund care for elderly”
- “Care home bills soar with only one week’s notice”
I’ve written a lot about residential care over the years and through all that time, Social Services have been strapped for cash to fund residential care and progressively it has been rationed to the most dependent cases, particularly those with dementia. Residential care has consistently lived down to its reputation for poor care, underpinned by low pay and inadequate standards of training. The recent Government move toward a higher minimum wage, whilst welcome, will add significantly to care home costs without improving the quality of care.
- “GPs vote to axe care home visits”
- “It’s cruel and cowardly for GPs to turn their back on the old”
- “Doctors appointments far shorter in the UK than France”
- “Dementia drive create false alarms”
These headlines all relate to the increasingly pressured and progressively eroded GP service. You can find many of my earlier posts on GP services by clicking on “GPs” in the TAG CLOUD. Withdrawing GPs regular visits to care homes, which look after the frailest of older people, would be a very callous decision. Having said that, it’s understandable that GPs may have a case for additional funding to provide this service. Many elderly people have complex and multiple conditions which don’t limit themselves to a single short visit to their GP.
The latter headline related to dementia refers to an initiative taken to improve the diagnosis of dementia, but sadly its unintended and easily foreseen consequences, resulted in a significant increase in identification of dementia sufferers without any corresponding resources to offer better treatment of the condition.
Because my blog is about turning Grumbles into Smiles, I also managed to find a much more positive outlook about ageing:-
- “Over 60s can look forward to longer life than ever”
- “Once you hit 70 it’s booming marvellous”
- “Sign up before it’s too late: clubs are key to a happy old age”
- “A third of homes are mortgage free”
These headlines are all about the fact that we are living longer and in the early years of retirement, many older people have more disposable income. With good health and a positive outlook, retirement can offer many new opportunities to older people. I will write about this more in a blog about Baby Boomers in two weeks’ time.
- “How do you feel? The answer will reveal how long you live”
This final headline is perhaps the most significant of all. It is based on research from the University of Geneva, who studied the lives of 6,000 men and women from Newcastle and Manchester over a period of 29 years. In essence it said that if you feel good about your health, you live longer. This is not a reflection of their actual physical health, nor is it about positive thinking. The key issue is their sense of wellbeing.
This echoes some work we did at the ExtraCare Charitable Trust when we opened our first retirement community at Berryhill in Stoke on Trent. We commissioned Keele University to study the first intake of residents for three years after they moved in. When they first moved in we asked them how old they felt and most felt three years younger than they actually were. When asked the same question three years later, having participated in an active life in the village, most people said they felt 20 or 30 years younger than they actually were. The researchers referred to this concept as “imagined age”.
That’s what ExtraCare was all about, making older people feel younger than they actually were!