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”

Meeting the challenges of an ageing population

Each year, Age UK stands back and takes an overview of how society is meeting the needs of people in later life and sets out our agenda for public policy in the year ahead. In our Agenda for Later Life 2013 report we track changes in a range of key areas including money matters, work and learning and health and social care.

A couple smile at each other in the garden.

Public attitudes, policies and the economy all impact on people’s experiences of ageing.  This year, as the economy bumps along the bottom, it would be all too easy to concentrate on the challenges we face. However, we strongly believe in the need to focus on the opportunities as well.

The publication of a White Paper setting out plans for a new single tier State Pension brings hope of better provision in future for those with low incomes and interrupted working lives. Continue reading “Meeting the challenges of an ageing population”

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”

Making older people visible in emergencies

Today our sister organisation, HelpAge International, won the world’s largest humanitarian prize – the Hilton Humanitarian Prize – in recognition of “its work to alleviate human suffering”.  This is a timely award on the day we present our vision for older people affected by crises and disasters in Age UK’s Agenda for Later Life report.

Older women hit by severe flooding in Pakistan.Age UK believes that people in later life must receive the protection and assistance they need and deserve following humanitarian emergencies.  HelpAge International does a tremendous job ensuring that the interests of older people in developing countries are represented and their contributions recognised.  

And this is imperative because the world is getting older; more and more civilians are dying in conflict; and natural disasters are becoming more frequent and deadly.  In fact:

  • The most rapid increase in the 60+ population is occurring in the developing world
  • Since 1945, 90 per cent of casualties in conflict have been civilians
  • Climate-releated disasters are increasing: the first four years of the 21st century saw an average of 326 disasters a year – a doubling in twenty years.

Older people are the invisible casualties of conflict and climate change.  And they are often neglected in the response by governments and humanitarian agencies alike. 

Part of the reason they are neglected is because of the myths that exist around older people in humanitarian emergencies.  These myths include: the extended family and community will always protect people in later life; older people only have themselves to worry about; and a humanitarian agency will look after older people through general aid distributions.   

In reality, migration and urbanisation mean that the extended family is no longer as common as it once was.   And many people may not have the resources or ability to help others at a time when they are also suffering.  

Furthermore, while some older people may not have families to care for them, many others are actually caring for grandchildren as their own children migrate in search of work or die through conflict and illness.  So in many cases, people in later life not only have to look after themselves, but also the children in their care.  

Finally, there are no United Nations agencies and very few international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) dedicated to older people.  Besides, older people have particular nutritional, cultural and health needs that are often not met by general relief distributions.  Sick, injured and frail people might find it difficult to queue or walk to relief distribution points, so they may not be able to access aid in the first place.  Relief packages may contain food that is too heavy to carry, too difficult to chew or lacking the nutrients that older people need.

That is why the work of our sister organisation, HelpAge International, is so important.  And it is only right and proper that the Conrad N Hilton Foundation should recognise their invaluable work.  Congratulations HelpAge!

Age UK’s annual policy conference, Agenda for Later Life 2012, is taking place today. Follow the conference tweets on Twitter #AFLL

Read the Agenda for Later Life  2012 report

What’s the point of the Age Action Alliance?

 The needs and aspirations of older people deserve more serious attention – not just because they are a fast growing element in the population.   They can no longer be lumped together and stereotyped as passive and undemanding ‘pensioners’:  they are the best educated, fittest, most diverse generation of older people we have ever seen in history.

Yet perversely, their numbers include a growing group of the most socially excluded people in society. Approaching one in five live below the poverty line, millions are living alone, and clusters of supportive family members living nearby is a thing of the past. Traditional networks centred on post offices, local bank branches, or village or neighbourhood retailers, are dwindling.   The digital age is advancing relentlessly, and a generation of older people are being left in the slipstream.   The loudest voices in society are calling for choice and ‘personalisation’, but this is merely confusing if not supported by information and advice.

Government, public services, the commercial world and the voluntary and community agencies need to take a fresh look at the older population in all these dimensions.   And against a backdrop of austerity, all need to find sharper, smarter ways of reaching out to older people.

That is the simple starting point of the Age Action Alliance. The objective is to:

  • bring together in new partnerships organisations which have neither thought nor needed to collaborate in the past,
  • explore ways of working together which can share insights, knowledge and resources,
  • seek new ways to deliver information, services and support to older people.  

 The focus is on people who are socially excluded or at risk of landing there.

Do we need a new organisation to do this?   Is there not a lot of this happening already?   Of course there is, and where there is good practice we want to celebrate and pluralise it.   The organisation is essentially a coalition of the willing, sharing and developing ideas through a website.

There will be a lively discussion about the Age Action Alliance at Age UK’s Agenda for Later Life conference on 8 March.   The initiative for the Alliance was taken by Age UK and the DWP, but it is ‘owned’ by the partners who step up to work together.   Too many good ideas have been lost as funding streams dried up, or the wilful individuals driving them moved on.   Society is facing unprecedented changes and tensions, but out of that we want a better deal for older people.

Find out more about Agenda for Later Life 2012

Find out more about the Age Action Alliance

Read the latest Age Action Alliance blog posts

Inclusive design – luxury or “must have”?

Philippa Aldrich is the founder of The Future Perfect Company, which promotes and sells good design for an ageing population. Philippa will be speaking about inclusive design at our Agenda for Later Life 2012 conference.

In these cash-straightened times it is easy to dismiss inclusive design as a luxury. If we are finding it difficult to find the money for the most basic of care for our older people, why are we wasting money on re-designing the products we already have? However, inclusive design may actually hold the key to reducing future care costs as well as improving the quality of all our lives as we get older.

At its most simplest, inclusive or universal design means designing for as many people as possible, taking into account the diversity of their abilities.  As many designers have up till now been focussing on younger consumers, the idea of inclusive design is today being used increasingly as a way of encouraging designers to think about the older people who are making up a bigger and bigger proportion of our population.

Not only is there an increasing demand for inclusively designed products, many older people for the first time have the money to buy them. Age UK have predicted that the spending power of people over the age of 65 in the UK is over £100 billion.

But why would people choose inclusively designed products over their mainstream equivalents?

Older people, like any other sector of the population, like products to be attractive and stylish – something that unfortunately cannot be said of many products specifically designed for their use.  And many of the designers working in this area have taken this on board. But more than mere aesthetics, an inclusively designed product can lead to increased and prolonged independence. – something which most people profess to want.  These products can either be small scale such as a teapot with a second handle for easy pouring or large scale such as automatic doors which are easy to open for someone with limited mobility.

There is also something very satisfying and empowering about using a product which is properly designed and does its job well. How much more likely are we to cook or garden if we have the right tools for the job which we enjoy using and which do not strain our wrists?

The best thing about inclusive design is that if you design with the old in mind, the resulting product is easy to use for everyone. It is not only older people who would appreciate another teapot handle,  easy to open doors or well designed garden tools. Think how popular the so-called “pensioner trolleys” in supermarkets have become.

So far from being frivolous, I think inclusive design is becoming increasingly important to the quality of our lives – and is an area which deserves investment in this era of cuts.

We will be holding a ‘twitter conversation’ about inclusive design at 11am on Monday 13 February 2012. If you are interested in design for an ageing population please join us by using the hashtag #ageukdebate

Find out more about Agenda for Later Life 2012