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The UK population is living longer, but this good news brings new challenges as more people face frailty or disability in old age.
When the time comes for extra support or care, the planning is often done by those close to the person needing care – spouses or adult children with families of their own. And, as our older friends, relatives and loved ones get frailer, our busy lives and the complexities of what's on offer mean many of us put off life-changing decisions until there’s a crisis. But the reality is that there are several stages and many options along the way. With the right information and advice, it isn’t all about ‘putting someone in a home’. You can keep your loved ones safe, independent and enjoying life for as long as possible.
While this guide gives you information on choosing the right care options for an elderly relative or friend, the suggestions are just as relevant to someone planning ahead for their own care needs.
Recognising the value of home
Home is more than where we live. It’s part of our identity. And most of us want to stay in the place we call home for as long as we can.
Even if you’re far away from someone who needs help, there are options available: equipment and home adjustments if they're struggling with daily tasks like bathing or cooking, for example. There's also useful technology that can send an alert if there’s a problem, meaning you won’t feel out of touch.
Getting care at home is a possibility if your relative needs this kind of support. Whether they need help with washing and dressing, or taking their pills, there are plenty of options. And you don’t necessarily need to pay for this privately: if your relative is eligible, they could get funding or services from their local council.
Promoting long-term health
Helping your relative maintain their physical health can make a big difference. Falls are the biggest cause of emergency hospital admissions for older people, but did you know that opticians can visit a housebound person to prescribe new glasses to avoid tripping? Or that an audiologist can advise on hearing aids, so someone can easily hear the doorbell? Little things can help in a big way.
It’s just as important to look after mental health. Access to cheap, or free, disability transport options can be the difference between someone socialising outside their home, or being isolated and growing lonely.
Finding help when it's needed
If a move to a new home does seem to be the right decision, this doesn’t have to be a care home. There are multiple other possibilities: warden-controlled or sheltered housing, Sheltered housingHouses or self-contained flats with communal facilities and a warden. or the newer option of extra-care housing, Extra-care housingSheltered housing that offers additional help with personal care (also known as ‘very sheltered housing’ or ‘assisted living’). and more.
And, if a residential care or nursing home is necessary, as it sometimes is, you’ll want to ensure you’re making the right decision on which one – without breaking the bank. It is possible to do.
Whatever stage you’re at in this decision process, it’s never too early to make plans. Setting up a Power of Attorney Power of AttorneyLegal permission for someone to manage the affairs of another when they are no longer able to. – if your relative ever needs someone to look after their interests in the future – and thinking about future financial issues, such as inheritance tax or funerals, can also be extremely helpful. If you plan ahead, you can avoid many of the difficulties that later life brings.