The 100 Year Life – A family carer’s perspective

Featured article - 14 June 2018
By Dame Philippa Russell, Vice-President, Carers UK

Head-shot of the author, Dame Philippa Russell, Vice-President, Carers UK

The past decade has seen major changes – and challenges – both in our life expectancy and in the quality we might achieve in those add-on years. As a family carer, with an adult son and a husband with significant care needs, I know that where we live can transform lives. As SCIE's chair, Professor Paul Burstow rightly commented when launching his Commission on Housing with Care, we need to rebrand social care, include a range of residential options and make housing an equal partner in delivering the Care Act 2014.

We live in a society which seems to demand longevity but fears old age! Older people are frequently criticised for being too expensive, a ‘demographic time bomb;’ but the Annual Well-Being Survey from the Office for National Statistics (May 2018) challenged the assumption that ageing automatically brings loss and increasing burden. If we can expect the 100 Year Life to become a reality, how do we ensure that this extended life is happy, as independent as possible and considers the inevitable interdependence of family and friends as we age?

Intergenerational care

With two people needing care and support in my own family, I firstly feel that we need to promote intergenerational care and shared space. We desperately need more houses for two, three or even four generations of families to live together.

Secondly, we need bespoke environments, designed for complex care with dignity in the homme environment (for example hoists with tracking, space for home dialysis, accommodating larger powered wheelchairs and equipment. Small is not always beautiful – and older people, even if living alone, may need room for carers for practical support.

Thirdly we need to look critically at what is inside our homes – we need innovative solutions to the design of furniture and equipment, both to keep people safe and importantly to avoid creating mini-institutions in the family home. Why must aids and equipment always be a sterile white or grey? Can we create furniture which is durable, easy to care for and looks stylish? As one carer said to me recently: ‘Why do the shops and centres for independent living look so bleak and clinical? We don’t need ‘hospital at home’, we want ‘cheap, cheerful and colourful, an IKEA for older and disabled people!’

Inclusive environments

Next, and perhaps the over-arching imperative, we need to create inclusive environments, design parks, leisure centres, libraries to accommodate ‘all ages’. We have much to learn here from the disability movement about community participation. Most importantly, we need to ask local communities what they want. When the Civic Society in Chichester asked its citizens what would make a difference, the priorities crossed all ages, including better local transport; safe pavements; an accessible high street and an ambition to make the city centre ‘open for all’.

And finally, we need to be ambitious. Assistive and robotic technology can change lives. In Japan, digital pets and robotic PAs are changing the home lives of people with dementia. In the UK, more people like my son (now in middle age) lives in a ‘smart house’ with assistive technology, alarm and sensor systems to keep him safe. My mother with dementia could continue to wander in her beloved garden thanks to a ‘tracker’ which enable us and other carers to find her if she vanished from her safe space. We are living through a digital revolution, but older people are not key players, even though they have the most to gain.

In conclusion, the 100 Year Life is a challenge but those of us who are family carers are already on the journey. Older people are consumers, customers and (I hope) that the business sector as well as Government will join in the to ensure that we all age well.

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