Are you ageing well? Suffolk prepares for ‘perfect storm’ in caring for older people
PUBLISHED: 18:23 14 March 2017
The Ancient Greeks sought the Fountain of Eternal Youth; Arthurian legend told of the Holy Grail and a cursed portrait apparently kept Dorian Gray from ageing. For most people, however, growing old is a simple fact of life.
Experiences of later life, though, can be a far more varied and complicated matter.
While for some, retirement offers a new lease of life, others retreat from society, lose purpose and suffer worsening health.
In Suffolk, concerns about the risks posed by this stage of life are so great that doctors actively target people approaching retirement to advise them on “Ageing Well”.
Imran Qureshi, a GP in Leiston and chairman of the Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) clinical executive, said the agenda was one of the most important aspects of healthcare today.
“The challenge across the health and social care sector is the ageing demographic timebomb that we are facing,” he said.
“Many people are living increasingly longer lives but not necessarily healthier lives - it really is a perfect storm.”
The agenda encourages older people to eat well and exercise regularly, volunteer to find fulfilment and socialise to avoid isolation.
In Suffolk, where the number of people aged over 85 is expected to treble by 2037, health and social care providers are also focused on supporting people in their own homes to keep them from hospital.
Nick Jenkins, medical director at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust said teams were redesigning services for people with multiple long-term conditions.
“Our community services are leading the way in developing early intervention services that identify and support patients who are at risk of coming into hospital,” he added.
“We work with mental health professionals, social workers, therapists and hospital consultants to manage treatments in the home wherever possible.”
Dr Jenkins highlighted studies showing that ten days in hospital is the equivalent of ten years’ worth of ageing for over 80s.
“I think this shows the importance in the coming decades of changing the way we view and support our ageing population to ensure that people in Suffolk, as the saying goes, add life to their years as well as years to their life,” he added.
Health chiefs say a key part to avoiding hospital stays is preventing falls, which affect half of over 80s every year and account for 25% of all 999 calls.
Suffolk CCGs, in partnership with Suffolk County Council, advise older people through Connect Suffolk on staying healthy and avoiding falls. Exercise is the main recommendation, particularly activities that improve muscle strength, such as gardening, walking or dancing. Getting enough vitamin D is also said to be important, as it keeps bones strong to lessen the risk of injury.
During National Hydration Week, which runs March 13-19, CCGs are also highlighting the importance of getting enough water. Dr Qureshi said older people often experienced reduced thirst and did not realise they needed to drink, while medicines such as diuretics and laxatives can increase dehydration.
“A fall can be physically and mentally devastating for an older person, often resulting in the loss of independence, and dehydration is a main or contributing factor in many falls,” he added.
Family members are advised to be aware of signs of dehydration, which include sluggishness, confusion, dizziness and dark urine, and to ensure older people have a regular intake of fluids - between six to eight cups a day.
Further studies, involving Suffolk partners, have looked at how different care settings can affect older people’s likelihood to fall.
Research commissioned by The Live-in Care Hub, a coalition of live-in care providers, including Suffolk-based Christies Care, found people who have live-in help suffered a third fewer falls and a quarter of the hip fracture than people in residential or nursing homes.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said in the Better at Home report: “The findings conclusively show that people who have live-in care are less likely to fall, and far less likely to have a hip fracture than people in residential and nursing homes.”
Nadra Ahmed OBE, chairman of the National Care Association, acknowledged that live-in care was preferable. However she said it was not always affordable and care homes or nursing homes should were often still the most appropriate setting,
Case study: Vivian Broad
The daughter of a Land Army veteran who suffered a severe stroke and then a broken hip in a fall has spoken of the benefits of live-in care for her mother.
Vivian Broad, who lived in Walberswick up until her recent death, was said to have been left “shaken” by her illnesses – but remained determined to retain her independence.
Daughter Gen, said her mother had loved her home of over 35 years and the idea of a residential home “didn’t appeal to her at all”.
Having approached Chisties Care, in Saxmundham, Viv was offered one-on-one care in her home.
Gen said: “We thought long and hard about live-in home care versus a care home, but in the end there was no option.
“Mum was a quiet, private and dignified person and would have hated being in a home.
“She was also a passionate gardener and spent hours outside enjoying and planning her garden. For her, home life was the norm and live-in home care made that possible whereas a care home would have removed a lot of her freedoms.”
With her live-in carer Jo, Viv was able to pursue hobbies such as painting, welcome friends to her home, and take part in daily exercise.