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Social care is suffering, we can at least let people age gracefully

As social care experts continue to address the ongoing crisis, Judy Boniface-Chang, chief customer officer at Birdie, turns our attention to societal pressures that have been detrimental to the wellbeing of older people for years. 

It’s no secret that ageing happily and healthily in the UK is becoming increasingly difficult. The Care Quality Commission found in its latest report that social care inequalities are deepening due to the cost-of-living crisis, impacting the well-being of older adults and threatening to create a care system divided by wealth. 

man sitting while holding a book watching on body of water

However, it’s not just the cost-of-living that influences the quality of our ’golden’ years. We’re seeing a societal silence surrounding ageing – a lack of discussion, education and enablement for proactive preparation for getting older – that presents a similar threat to our well-being in our later years. 

This silence is making us ‘sleepwalk’ into old age: our recent research found that 75% of us only ever consider our ageing journey ‘sometimes’ or less. Unprepared for the realities of growing old, many in the UK lack the financial means to pay for care, the support network required to age well, and the awareness to take proactive steps to maintain their physical and mental health for longer. 

Waking the UK up to the realities of ageing is possible – but it requires a radical new approach. 

It takes a village 

In situations like this, we would normally all look to the government and the NHS to help make an ageing society aware of the realities of preparing for old age. But we all know that this is unrealistic – both are overwhelmed and underfunded – and while this doesn’t mean that they have no role to play, solutions will also need to come from a combined effort that involves multiple actors. 

At Birdie, we say that just as it ‘takes a village’ to raise children to be thriving members of society, it takes the whole health and social care system working with local communities to make ageing a celebrated period of life.  

This ‘village of care’ comes to life when every player in health and social care – from GP to hospital, to home care agency and pharmacist – are all connected and collaborating around the needs of the individual. In creating this system, we can not only deliver better care more scalably, but we also can leverage the power of data to be able to create a ‘collective wisdom’ that can transform outcomes. 

But how can this ‘village of care’ help us before we’re even at the point of needing care? 

woman in black and white striped shirt hugging girl in black and white striped shirt

There are a number of ways in which it can help break the silence: 

    1. Better preparation for physical and mental health: Having healthy later years means building good habits long before you reach retirement. Holistic approaches to diet and exercise are perfectly aligned with the idea of care moving more into the community. This is where public health campaigning is critical, and can involve multiple actors in the village of care, from a local level to a national level, all working together to drive awareness
    2. Building support networks and community: Having a strong social network isn’t just essential for providing informal care and support, but it’s been shown multiple times that good social relationships and engagement in community life are major determinants of health and well-being. Again, this is where a joined-up system of care is well-placed to help drive this message – and empowered by being connected, can leverage their collective efforts to greater effect
    3. Understanding financial readiness for old age: While recent reforms in pension schemes have raised awareness of the need to proactively save for our later years, this dialogue has yet to encompass what exactly those financial needs might look like. Education on the cost of care, adapting homes for changing physical needs, and other elements of the ‘cost of ageing’ are needed on a broader level
    4. Building confidence in navigating care: For most people, their first interaction with the care system is when their parents begin to require extra support – and there begins a journey that can be confusing and intimidating. However, if we’re to create a society that ages confidently, we must take ownership of our ageing journey much earlier. This involves incorporating proactive and preventative activities into our lives that help maintain our health for longer

This is why the idea of a networked village of care is so important in the first place, placing the care recipient and their family at the centre so that they’re empowered to take control of their journey. By bringing the village together, we have an opportunity to remove the complexity of navigating care, helping families be better informed and prepared long before their journey begins. 

The impact on the social care sector 

All of these initiatives show the capacity of the ‘village’ to come together and bring about positive change. For social care providers, this means a future where care recipients are better equipped to seek support proactively before they reach a ‘crisis’ point. 

Breaking the silence about ageing is all about re-making the system of ageing. The good news is that the work has already started, with new technologies that deliver connectivity and intelligence, helping support a growing network of health and social care providers, families and communities to be not just prepared, but empowered. 

Images: Aaron Andrew Ang and Ekaterina Shakharova

More features:

‘Unforgettable: Telling the care home story’ review – love, loss and Covid-19

Fostering resilience: Strategies for empowering children affected by trauma

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