How can we help the elderly Live independently for longer?
Points to be covered
National UK Statistics
Acceptance of the ageing process
Adapting homes & lives to accommodate these changes.
Seeking peer, professional &/or community support.
Office of National Statistics (ONS) for 2017/18:
There are nearly 12 million (11,989,322) people aged 65 and above in the UK;
Of these 5.4 million people are aged 75+;
Of these 1.6 million are aged 85+, Over 500,000 people are 90+ (579,776) and 14,430 are centenarians
According to a survey by the Telegraph in 2018:
Of the 43% of people 60 years or over who live alone, 48% have no family living locally and 25% of these have no living relatives at all.
According to latest NHS statistics published for 2017/2018:
The highest risk of falls is in those aged 65 and above.
It is estimated that about 30% people (2.5 million) aged 65 and above living at home and about 50% of people aged 80 and above living at home or in residential care, will experience an episode of a fall at least once a year.
There can be no doubt that with our ageing population, combined with the current cuts in social care and the NHS, the crisis that we are already experiencing, will intensify.
What can be done to minimise the occurrence of these falls and their likely consequences?
One inevitability about our life journey, is that in time, the body and mind will age. However, the rate of this is different with each individual.
As evidenced by the statistics above, more elderly people find themselves with no “hands on” help. For those with no living relatives, they have no spokesperson & are therefore left at the whim of our crumbling social care and health services.
'Falls' in the elderly often result in crisis, where it is deemed that they are no longer able to live at home independently, as recovery can be slow. This may lead to a traumatic and sudden change in their living circumstances, if they need to be rehoused.
Adapting homes & lifestyles to minimise falls and extend independent living
As a Professional Organiser I believe that it is really important that a person’s home is adapted to accommodate physical and mental changes as they age.
All things need to be rearranged so that they are within easy reach, to avoid bending down or stretching to reach something.
Items used frequently such as washing machines, fridges etc. may need to be adapted to be at a safe level.
Once cupboards are rearranged so everything is within reach, it is important that they are not cluttered, which could risk an item falling out, thereby causing injury and/or a fall.
If a walking aid is required, items may well need to be moved/removed to create ample space throughout the home. It is also important that the right aid is chosen. Below is an example of an indoor walker which enables you to carry things on it, as well as an outdoor walker with a basket.
Having the correct equipment improves safety and helps an elderly person remain active in their community.
All trip hazards need to be removed.
If a person is becoming forgetful, decluttering is crucial. Even a well minded person will struggle to find things if they simply have ‘too much stuff’.
Essentially the home needs to be made as simple & as practical as possible. This also needs to be constantly under review as things continue to change.
While there may be some reluctance initially, one hopes that the elderly person can be persuaded that all these changes, are purely designed to make their homes safer for them.
This process needs to be dealt with sensitively with compassion, as in truth, every room in the home needs to be reviewed & potentially adapted.
I have watched many documentaries about the elderly where the changes referred to above, do not seem to be routinely considered.
There are 2 Panorama programmes on the crisis in social care. In the second one, which you can watch here, there is an elderly lady who lives alone and has fallen. She describes how she bent down & fell. It resulted in a 6 week stay in hospital. When she returned home, she had become much frailer and she describes her legs ‘as not feeling as if they were hers’
Looking at her environment it seemed to me that changes could have been made to make it less hazardous. Even a marginally untidy room can be hazardous for an elderly person.
The advantage of a Professional Organiser like myself, is that I am effectively a ‘fresh pair of eyes’ and can work through the home in a compassionate way, to recommend the changes that would help improve safety.
Where there are loving family members, who live too far away to undertake such a task, with the elderly person’s consent, I can involve them in the decision-making process. Knowing their is help at hand, can give them much needed peace of mind, as these relatives often suffer from guilt and anxiety at being too far away to help.
None of the above is rocket science.
While there may be occupational therapists involved, they are very under resourced, so do not have the time or skills in decluttering, reorganising and adapting the homes, in the ways I have discussed.
Other external support available
If you are an elderly person yourself or have elderly relatives who find themselves alone in the world, where can you/they access help, other than government based social care?
There are many UK wide charities that offer services at both a national & local level. For Example:
These charities and many more, offer a range of support services including companionship, guidance & advice in terms of home visits, community groups, housing, home help, personal care, companionship, respite care & dementia care.
There can be community groups offered by local churches. Unfortunately, many churches have closed in the last 20 years due to the decline of attendance overall, so this is a declining resource.
In the light of all of the continuing social care cuts, and more elderly needing support, the charity role plus community led groups, is ever more important.
To add to this mix, we need to offer neighbourly support. If we know of an elderly person living in our street, we can offer to visit or to get groceries etc. Community awareness is becoming ever more important.
Finally, it is never too early to consider how we can adapt our homes/lifestyles in anticipation of old age. My parents downsized to a lovely bungalow in their 60’s. This was a blessing as when my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer in her 70’s, it meant that we could care for her at home until she passed. This was what she wished for, & indeed a blessing to us all.
I hope this has provided food for thought and been practically helpful. I am passionate about the plight of our elderly people.
If you have any questions or would like my help, please do not hesitate to contact me.
With Very Best Wishes,
Phone: 07775 728447