Opportunities – and worries – in elderly care

Rutherglen Reformer article 11th May 2019

One of the most significant issues which comes my way as a Councillor is the challenge of care for elderly frail family members. The prevailing wisdom – largely correct – is that most people want to be looked after in their own homes rather than in residential care. 

Yet the pressures on close family members can be considerable and, sometimes, supported care at home can be an isolating experience. There is also a looming workforce problem as carers in their 50s and 60s are themselves due to retire in disproportionate numbers quite soon. People these days live longer and older people make up a growing proportion of the population.

South Lanarkshire Council and NHS Lanarkshire are developing what they call a “transitional model of care”. The aim is to avoid people being admitted to hospital, to support them in returning to independent living at home and to make full use of new IT opportunities to support home care.

These aims are admirable but they also raise new challenges. 

Firstly the Council believe the need for long term residential accommodation will be less and are closing some facilities (although not in the Rutherglen area).

Secondly they have started an overdue review of daycare. Facilities like the Harry Heaney Centre in Spittal provide both company and therapy for older people and respite and support for families. However they are currently underused. So looking at whether change in what they do and how they operate should be an opportunity to bring more support to more people.

Thirdly, the standard of care support provided by care assistants is normally excellent – but a short visit 3 times a day does not itself overcome problems of isolation and loneliness. 

And I have concerns too about over-reliance on IT as a solution to the increasing incidence of dementia in older age.

A family carer suggested the idea of dementia-friendly housing and communities to me recently and I have discussed it with senior Council staff. Meeting the challenges of elderly care needs new solutions, but we must not forget that older people require social opportunities and their families may need support and respite. The success of change in community care will depend on how well these challenges are met.

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