Article by Dignity Magazine: Helping the over-50s live life to the full
“The body’s decline creeps like a vine,” wrote the American surgeon Atul Gawande in his compassionate and thoughtful book Being Mortal. His insightful observation neatly sums up the process of ageing. You don’t realise you are getting old until you can no longer do the things that make life worthwhile without the care and support of others.
As advances in medicine and public health mean that more people are living into their 80s and 90s, some older and disabled people will need to access state help if they wish to continue to lead dignified, meaningful lives in their own homes. Unfortunately, unless there is a significant policy change, the majority of these people will struggle to access the vital care and support they need to remain independent.
A decade of austerity has resulted in more than £7 billion being stripped from adult social care budgets in England, according to figures from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services. As councils up and down the country struggle to balance their books in the face of budget shortfalls, many have pared back their social care provision and tightened their eligibility criteria so that only the poorest and neediest individuals now receive council-funded social care.
An estimated 1.5 million people aged 65 plus are living with unmet care needs, a new analysis of official statistics by Age UK shows. This lack of access to essential support to carry out basic everyday tasks such as getting up, getting washed and dressed is having a devastating impact on the lives of older people and on the lives of their adult children. Many of these adult children are forced to act as unpaid carers, largely without support from the state, placing their financial, physical and mental health in jeopardy.
There are around 7m unpaid carers across the UK, figures from Carers Trust show. This figure is expected to rise to 10.4m by 2030 if longevity continues to increase and access to social care diminishes. An unintended consequence of 10 years of chronic underfunding of social care services is that many family carers have been pushed to breaking point. A&E departments throughout the UK are now having to deal with around 1,000 over 65s being admitted to hospital every day with a preventable, treatable health condition, Age UK has said. Some of these admissions are due to their carers being unable to cope. One council has decided to approach the crisis in social care funding from a different angle – by launching a service aimed at ensuring that its middle-aged and senior residents do not fall seriously ill in the first place.
Haringey’s Reach and Connect service offers its over 50s access to a range of practical help and support to tackle their everyday challenges, and the information and advice to keep them healthy and happy, and leading full, meaningful lives. The new service has been designed to encourage people to seek preventative help as soon as they require it, before a problem begins to impact on their physical and mental wellbeing, rather than waiting to get help when they have reached crisis-point. The service is accessible from community hubs dispersed throughout the borough.
The rationale behind Reach and Connect is that if people receive timely and practical help to solve their problems, they are less likely to experience the symptoms of anxiety and depression that can accompany longstanding, unresolved issues. These individuals are also less inclined to feel isolated by their problems or to feel lonely, which means they are at a reduced risk of developing the health conditions associated with loneliness such as high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, strokes and the ensuing disability.
By tackling problems early, people will experience a boost to their self-esteem and self-confidence, the theory suggests. This will encourage them to become more proactive when another problem arises, remain independent and given to engaging in the behaviours and social activities that help generate happiness, build resilience and can lead to living purposeful lives. Research shows that happy, fulfilled people devote more time to the pursuits that imbue their lives with meaning. They are also more motivated to make the lifestyle changes that will enable them to extend their healthy life expectancy.
Crucially, happy, fulfilled people living healthier, independent lives are unlikely to need 20-plus years of social care services, which are already under pressure from rising demand linked to people living longer in poorer health.
Reach and Connect
The Reach and Connect service is managed by Public Voice, a community interest company (CIC) whose aim is to improve public services and local neighbourhoods through user engagement. The service will be delivered in partnership with mental health charity Mind in Haringey, HAIL, Wise Thoughts and the Haringey Over 50s Forum.
There are four distinct strands to the multi-agency service, which will be available to the borough’s eligible residents face-to-face, over the telephone or via email for an initial seven-year period.
- A team of community Connectors providing individual and group support, and generic and specialist support to residents through the provision of information or by signposting to further sources of help
- A brief intensive support service to help residents manage complex issues including bereavement, returning home from hospital, down-sizing or experiencing crime
- The free Silver Line telephone support service. Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Silver Line provides emotional support and befriending services to the over 50s
Making new friends, building skills and developing confidence
Developing friendships and keeping social networks alive can be key to maintaining good mental health. Studies show that lonely older people are at an increased risk of anxiety and depression, which makes them vulnerable to cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Persistently lonely older people are 64% more likely to develop dementia than their peers with active social lives.
Other studies show that lonely adults visit their GPs more often and are more likely to be referred to adult social care services, while lonely seniors enter residential care earlier than their more socially active counterparts.
Activities which reduce feelings of social isolation and encourage people to feel less lonely and support to help older remain living in their own homes are a key component of the new service’s offerings, especially as the UK is experiencing an epidemic of loneliness and social isolation among people of all ages.
“We are discovering that there are a lot of people out there who are incredibly isolated and lack the confidence to do anything at all, including leaving their homes,” says Mike Wilson, the director of Public Voice.
“We want to create an environment where older people feel confident enough to leave their homes and engage with other older or younger people and with the services that are on offer.
“We also want to help older people develop the self-confidence to establish new social networks and friendships if their old friendships have fallen away, which they often do,” he says. “We hope to achieve this by helping everybody who accesses our services to get out and do something that they will enjoy.”
So, the Reach and Connect service provides the information, guidance and support to encourage individuals to build skills and develop intrinsic qualities such as perseverance, resilience and self-confidence, which can help people to reach their goals.
“We will also be partnering with the University of the Third Age,” explains Wilson. “If somebody wants to learn something informally, they have the opportunity to do so. If they want to engage in formal learning, we’ve got lots of information about local college offers, so that they can develop new skills.
“It could be wanting to go to cookery classes, so we can direct them to the right place. It could be practical skills or it could just be social skills, whatever is appropriate to the person.
“If someone is interested in doing a basic computer course, our Connectors can find out where they can do that. We might be able to help them ourselves with our own computer projects. We also want to create opportunities for older people to contribute to society through volunteering.”
How does the service work?
There are many ways to access the service if you believe you could benefit from the help on offer. You can refer yourself by calling the service directly or you can ask your GP or a health care professional to make a referral on your behalf. If you are worried about a parent, older relative or even your neighbour, you can make a referral on their behalf, with their consent.
“Once we become aware of you via a third party, we will make contact with you, initially, by phone,” Wilson continues. “That is, unless we’ve met you at one of our surgeries, in which case we will have a little chat where we’d start by asking you what was the two most important things that would make your life better.
“We’d write these down and have a discussion around how you think we could help you achieve these two things. If we have some suggestions, we’d no doubt throw them in the pot. It may be that simple sign-posting would be sufficient. Or we might suggest a particular group or nearby church that hosts coffee mornings that you may enjoy.
“If someone needs a bit more help, we offer a brief support service, which is loosely defined as five hours of support over two weeks. But it doesn’t have to be that precise. This is a short-term support service. So, we would take you to the coffee morning if you felt you would like a buddy. When we have more volunteers, the volunteers will act as buddies.
“We may also ask if you would be interested in joining Haringey Circle, where there are lots of things going on. One of the Circle members may contact you and take you to one of your first events in the hope that you’d feel confident enough to go along yourself if you enjoyed it.”
The new service has been billed as “creating an age-friendly Haringey”. This means that Haringey will eventually become a place where “older people have the opportunities to do the things that they would like to do, together,” explains Wilson.
“That the venues that they might go to are suitable and welcoming, regardless of whether they are disabled or not or which community they come from, whether they are gay or lesbian. “Whoever they are, we want Haringey to be a good place for older people,” he concludes.
Where will I find a Connector?
There will be eight Reach and Connect Connectors based in community hubs located across the east and the west of the borough. The Connectors will hold regular drop-in sessions in these hubs so that the public know they are there.
They will also visit people in their homes, in a cafe or the library; wherever they feel comfortable or confident.
© 2019 Dignity Magazine.