SCIE opinion – 14 July 2014

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Photograph of Ilona Haslewood

Helping older people with high support needs to achieve a better life

By Ilona Haslewood, Policy and Research Manager for An Ageing Society at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Social care can do so much to help improve quality of life for the many thousands of older people with high or increasing care and support needs. The first step towards this is having an understanding of what matters to the person in life, not only what services are available to him or her.

The contributors to SCIE’s new short films, whether they live in the community or in a care home, articulate some of the key things that matter to them. They speak of their friendships and closest relationships with spouses and children, being treated with respect and friendliness, being able to pursue some favourite pastimes and connect with the outside world. None of these things are extraordinary, yet they often fall into the background, if not entirely off the agenda.

One of the contributors talks about having help to “look after the bits and pieces [of me] that I forget about’ and being able to do things ‘like an ordinary person”. For her and many others these are the most valuable roles that social care support can fulfil. It is not a one-way street either, as another contributor says, ‘we are in fact all friends’: forming relationships with other residents and staff helped her change her mind about wanting to be in the care home.

The discussions in the films were structured around seven key challenges emerging from JRF’s recent work. Rising to these challenges helps improve quality of life for older people today and in the future. Social care is a key player in this, but should not be the only one. We all, whether in a professional or a private role, should keep asking ourselves: are we doing these things? If not, how can we do better?

In today’s world when the pressures on social care are many and varied, it would not be surprising if the first response by some was that it’s ‘ideal world’ stuff. The point is, though, that it is not: it’s at the very heart of the matter. Helping people have better lives is not only a question of resources (although they do play an important role), but of understanding their perspective and being able to form a supportive relationship. A recent ‘At a glance’ summary gathers together some of SCIE’s existing resources that can be used to deliver ‘a better life’.


Older people and quality of life videos on Social Care TV

JRF: A Better Life

SCIE At a glance 65: A Better Life for older people with high support needs: the role of social care