Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Positive ageing - bucking the trend?

This week is Positive Ageing Week, which also includes Older People’s Day today, (1 October). The narrative around ageing and particularly around the substantial increase in the number of older people in the coming decades is often focused on the challenges of increasing demand for services and the fact that, across public services, we aren’t ready to accommodate this need.

At Care & Repair’s recent Annual Conference, a consultant from Powys Teaching Health Board (Prof. Bim Bhowmick) spoke about caring for older people with more acute needs in the community. One of his main points, which really resonated with me, was in saying that an increase in the older population doesn’t have to mean greater demand… more need… pressure on hospital services. He’d been leading on a consultant led “virtual ward” service aimed at keeping older people out of hospital. Through this he demonstrated a few things, namely:
  • Consultant-led community services for older people will reduce attendance at A&E and instances of delayed transfer of care.
  • Services configured to intervene at the time, before someone is admitted to hospital for further checks etc., is by far the most important time to intervene. 
  • Ensuring that there's an understanding of what can be provided in the community by NHS staff and other stakeholders is key for General Practitioners. 
  • The home is often an appropriate place to provide interventions for people with acute needs. 
  • If we make these changes on an all-Wales level, we can realise a future where even though there’s a large population of older people, better service focus along with changes in lifestyle and behaviour can combine to offset the type of demand being predicted at present. 
The way we understand housing in the context of positive ageing is also very important. All too often this is a bit one dimensional – along the lines of poor housing leads to poor health. Clearly this is a really important part of understanding the impact housing can have, and the implications of poor housing. But an over-focus on the physical environment may lead us to overlook much of what it means to age positively. Housing certainly underpins this, but (for example) opportunities to socialise, learn new skills, inform and participate in local and national debate, spend more time with family, work or volunteer and travel the world can all have a huge bearing on how 'positively' we age. 

For the housing sector, it’s about understanding how we can best support this shift in emphasis and if there’s capacity to provide staff, share expertise or facilitate patient, carer or family engagement in building a shared understanding of how we support people in truly holistic way. 

Matthew Kennedy
Policy Officer: Care, Support and Health

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