Nurses and doctors running

Crisis What Crisis?

It’s time for a rethink on Social Care.

By Margaret Abbett

As we see media images of infirm older people waiting to be discharged from hospital, we could be forgiven for thinking that frailty is an inevitable part of the ageing process and that our elders are almost solely responsible for the current NHS crisis.

And it is worrying when you see the latest figures. Week ending 19 January 2023, over 14,000 beds in NHS England were occupied by patients who no longer needed to be there – over 12% higher than the same period last year – and it’s a similar picture in the other devolved nations (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).

Studies have shown older people often deteriorate further after they have been admitted to hospital. Innovative programmes such as those that have been trialled in Warwickshire are helping older people in need of care to be looked after in a home environment and could reduce the need to hospitalise in the first place.

Major Rethink Required

But this problem is not new. Over the past two decades, the response of Governments of all political colours has been to pledge more resources and money for social care for older patients.

But it wasn’t enough and it hasn’t worked.

“I think it is time for a major rethink on how we perceive people in their later life and take a far more strategic approach to elder care.”

We now have even fewer care home places and more staff shortages in the elder care sector. Who can blame our undervalued eldercare workers from quitting, when they can earn more and have better career progression in the retail and commercial sectors?

We should “Respect our elders” by valuing our older people and the role of the people who work in geriatric care – and reward them accordingly.

Rewards and Motivation – How I improved my own Life

But I would say we should go further than that. Turn the whole thing on its head and look at how we can all give ourselves a chance to age better. I’m a case in point. I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes over ten years ago. I started watching my diet and increased my exercise and was able to stop it progressing any further.

Of course lockdown reversed all that. I exercised less and indulged in my passion for baking. Not surprisingly my weight and therefore my sugar levels increased and I had to begin taking the dreaded Metformin. A threat that I might also need beta blockers as well has prompted me to get back on the straight & narrow and I’m now back to my regular exercise bike sessions, walking, yoga and tai chi classes (with Balanced Lives exercise programmes ). I’m taking responsibility for myself in the hope of ageing better.

Evidence Based Programmes in the Community and in Homes

And that’s the mantra for Action for Elders, a charity that recognises how important it is for our later life to be better and healthier. They have developed interventions that could  help with the current demands on the NHS and in the longer term could prevent some of the health issues we are seeing among our older people.

It is already devised and is delivering evidenced based, cost effective programmes that have actually lowered hospital admissions, particularly in the areas of mobility.

Action for Elders current work both in Care Homes and Retirement Homes have yielded hugely positive results in keeping people physically active and mentally well.

I am particularly interested that their Balanced Lives programmes have demonstrated that those taking part can reduce GP visits and drug intake, improve their health and become more resilient.

Action for Elders believes their impact systems are robust and aligned with value based healthcare research. They are working with initiatives such as Age Alliance Wales, taking a fresh approach to ageing. Older people learn to take responsibility for their own physical, mental and social wellbeing.

Another Stage in Life Made Better

According to James Lewis, chief executive of the charity Action for Elders, we should be looking at later life as just another stage in our lives – like all the other stages, childhood, early adulthood and mid-life – but the focus needs to be on how we can make that stage of life better.

About the Author

This is a guest article for Action For Elders by Maggie Abbett as part of our Think Differently About Ageing series

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