Guest blog: Dementia is a women’s issue

This week we have a guest blog from Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society, on women and dementia. 

Dementia is one of those illnesses that we don’t really like to talk about do we?  It’s associated with ageing and while we know that we have an ageing society all the images around us are rather in denial preferring to promote youthful beauty.  But it’s also a gender issue because women are more likely than men to be affected.

That is why I am pleased to be speaking at Age UK’s For Later Life conference on this issue in November.  In fact I was shocked to learn when researching the subject that dementia is now the biggest cause of death for women in the UK.  Women over 60 are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than breast cancer. So it would seem reasonable to expect that research in this area would be focussing more heavily on women.  But this is not so. Continue reading “Guest blog: Dementia is a women’s issue”

Testing times for older drivers?

8532700242_647cae79ab_k

On 26 June, Age UK is supporting a free conference at the Mobility Roadshow looking at how we can improve road safety for older drivers. Joe Oldman, Age UK’s Consumer and Community Policy Advisor, explains the current issues in the older driver debate. 

For many of us, continuing to drive as we get older is essential – a car may determine our ability to remain active and independent. The thought of having to give up driving can be distressing, especially in places where alternative forms of transport are limited or non-existent.

Challenging the myths about older drivers

With an increase in older drivers, there is growing concern about the implications for road safety.  Media coverage about older drivers and safety can be unhelpful or even insulting – dealing in lazy stereotypes rather than considering the evidence. The vast majority of older drivers, with many years of experience, are often safer than younger drivers. Those drivers aged 75 and over make up 6% of all licence holders, but account for just 4.3% of all deaths and serious injuries on the road. By contrast, drivers aged 16-20 make up just 2.5% of all drivers but 13% of those killed and seriously injured.

Continue reading “Testing times for older drivers?”

How do we make prevention real?

 Leslie, 95, and his granddaughter Wendy.

Two weeks ago, despite it being one of the first warm evenings of the year, a sizeable crowd gathered for the most recent in our series of Tavistock Square Debates tackling the big issues across health and care for older people.  And this debate posed one of the toughest questions yet: “How do we make prevention real?”

Whether we are talking about preventing ill health in the first place or helping people stay well and manage a condition, we all agree prevention is better than cure. Likewise there is little argument that we should aim to prevent a crisis wherever possible.

However, in practice the case for investment and shifting resources ‘upstream’ is not always easy to make. In the light of the renewed emphasis on preventive approaches set out in the NHS Forward View and the Care Act, we asked our expert panel their views on what it would really take to break the cycle of short term targets and siloed budgets; to move from words to action.

Continue reading “How do we make prevention real?”

Attitudes to ageing

With an ageing population and increasing numbers of us living in to late old age, attitudes to later life have never been more relevant. At the same time, our straitened economic position and pressures on public services to meet financial challenges whilst providing for these growing numbers of over 6os, means the debate often hinges on economic and political issues.

440x210_old-man-portrait

The ‘burden’ of our ageing population is frequently stressed, accompanied by an emphasis on inequalities between generations that incite division.

Yet, one of the strongest messages to come out of a session I chaired last week at Age UK’s For Later Life conference was that the media furore on the ‘burden of ageing’ is not reflected in public attitudes.

No satisfaction

Ben Page of Ipsos Mori revealed polling showing that 68% of people aren’t satisfied with the Government’s treatment of older people and that care for the elderly is consistently amongst the top three scoring issues of concern to people of all ages.

I believe this polling strikes at the heart of the debate about attitudes to later life, illustrating the gap between political and media rhetoric and the views of the individual. But why is there such a gap? How do we form our attitudes to later life? And are they showing signs of changing, heralding strains on intergenerational relations? Continue reading “Attitudes to ageing”

Guest blog – Mad as hell: Older people must demand a better care experience

This blog was contributed by Dr Nick Goodwin a speaker at Age UK’s annual For Later Life conference. Nick is CEO of the International Foundation for Integrated Care and a Senior Fellow at The King’s Fund, London where he leads their programme of research and analysis for improving and integrating care for older people and those with long-term conditions.

When my elderly father was in hospital recently his experience of an uncoordinated, chaotic and impersonal service was both dispiriting and disturbing to both him and his family. Whilst clinical decision-making was good, and as a result his physical health returned through the miracles of blood transfusions and intravenous antibiotics, the experience undoubtedly took a large piece out of his mental wellbeing and future self-confidence.

The underlying problem was a lack of care co-ordination. The lack of information sharing on diagnosis, procedures, results and next steps led to worried waits about the seriousness of his condition and what, as a family, we needed to put in place for home care support. Different and conflicting advice and feedback from doctors and nurses was unhelpful. The lack of 440x210-woman-in-hospital-bedcommunication between wards, and between nurses on the wards, meant that his medication regime for Parkinson’s was often ignored despite constant reminders. No help was given to support discharge, and no plan put in place. Continue reading “Guest blog – Mad as hell: Older people must demand a better care experience”

Food for thought

A few weeks ago the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Congress dominated the headlines as nurses overwhelmingly voted in favour of a motion of no confidence in Andrew Lansley. While NHS reform was the main topic of conversation at the 4 day Congress, it was not the only issue being discussed.

Hospital food by celesteh, via FlickrWe attended the RCN congress to talk about a current problem in our hospitals – older patients becoming malnourished. The statistics show that the number of people entering and leaving hospital malnourished has steadily risen each year – in 2008-09 over 185,000 people left hospital malnourished.

The nurses we spoke to all agreed that this is a problem, but they disagreed over the cause. Many nurses believed that it is caused by the poor quality of food: “Have you seen the food they serve?” “The food looks like slop” are two comments we heard time and time again. Their proposed solution is straightforward – hospitals need to spend more on food so patients can have nutrient rich and appealing food.

While improving the quality of food will help, it will not fully solve the problem. Good quality food is important but hospitals also need to ensure that older people receive the help they need during mealtimes. What’s the point of having a five-star meal if no-one helps you to remove the packaging?

Older people regularly tell us they do not get the help they need at mealtimes – this help could be as simple as ensuring the food tray is placed within reach, to removing packaging as well as assistance with feeding. Without this support older patients go without food and often end up leaving hospital malnourished.

Nurses have told us that the biggest barrier to ensuring patients receive help is time – mealtimes are too short and there are simply not enough nurses to help everyone who requires support at mealtimes. There is no one solution to this; mealtimes could be staggered or extended, hospital volunteers could support patients during mealtimes or more nurses could be employed on wards.

What is clear is that immediate action is required to stop this scandal, otherwise the number of people leaving hospital malnourished will continue to rise.

Find out more about Age UK’s Hungry to be Heard campaign, fighting malnutrition in hospitals.

Fighting pensioner poverty… what’s the score?

Last week I opened the Inside Government conference on the future of UK pensions, with a presentation on tackling pensioner poverty. With Steve Webb as a fellow panellist I described  the human impact for the poorest of our inadequate pension system; ‘scored’ current public policy; and set out Age UK’s policy ‘wish list’.

Older person - Photo: Hoveringdog via Flickr
Photo: Hoveringdog via Flickr

Pensioner poverty remains a massive issue across the UK. The stereotype of the rich ‘baby boomer’ means that we often think of older people as wealthy homeowners with significant disposable income. For some, this is true, but income inequality within the older cohort is rising steadily.

Over 1.8 million people over 65 live below the poverty line of just £119 per week for a single person. Those most likely to be poor in later life include single women, people from black and minority ethnic communities and the ‘oldest old’ – people currently in their late 70s and upwards. The poverty among many older people is too often exacerbated by benefits being left unclaimed. Somewhere between £3.6bn and £5.4bn in means-tested benefits for pensioners goes unclaimed every year.  Continue reading “Fighting pensioner poverty… what’s the score?”