‘We have to adapt where we can’ - the struggles of coping with an ageing population
PUBLISHED: 14:00 01 January 2019 | UPDATED: 15:33 01 January 2019
Copyright: Archant 2018
The demographics of Norfolk are changing.
With a 31pc increase in people aged over 65 in 15 years, organisations and individuals are working hard to handle what many see as a crisis - the ageing population.
Norfolk County Council spends on average £1m a day on adult social care in Norfolk, with around 14,000 people using its services day to day. More still are looked after by family and friends.
The county has an older population than most in the UK, which is predicted to increase at a higher than average rate too. In 2017 the county council decided to implement a new strategy called Promoting Independence, to tackle shifting population.
Bill Borret, chairman of the council’s adult social care committee, said: “It is really about keeping people well and in their own homes. It feeds into everything the council does. It also means that the money the county council has will go further, we are not spending it on intensive care because people are keeping independent for longer.
“We have a large elderly population in Norfolk which is great, because I’m all for people living longer, but it does mean there’s a lot more dementia. We have to adapt where we can. Budget pressure is a great driver for change.
“We are planning to build 3,000 housing UK units across Norfolk, which was launched recently. There’s a recognition that because of the changing population we need to have different types of housing.
“I’m quite pleased with the progress we have made as a council. We are not saying we have enough money, but we are trying to make money go as far as possible.
“We recruited 50 new social workers to spend more time with people at the early stages so they don’t get put into a higher level of care just because it’s easier. They are not cut off from friends and family by being moved away from everything that is familiar.
“We also have No Lonely Day. People who are lonely have much worse outcomes than people with a network of people around them. They remain active for longer and have a higher satisfaction level with their lives. We are trying to work with health services because we can help each other.”
One action taken by the council and clinical commissioning groups was to set up Carers Matter Norfolk, offering advice and support to carers, many of whom are unwilling to seek official help.
Maria Plumb, deputy service manager said: “An ageing population in Norfolk is resulting in an increase in family, friends and neighbours providing help, support and care.
“Some of this care being delivered is becoming more substantial and complex as people live longer, placing a higher burden on Norfolk’s thousands of carers, some of whom don’t see themselves as a carer – they are simply someone’s husband or wife, son or daughter, friend or neighbour. It is not until the caring gets too much that they might come forward to seek help. The most important thing is to speak to us before getting to that crisis.”
Mary Ledgard, a 70-year-old volunteer within the health and social care sector, is also a carer for her husband, who is 87.
Mrs Ledgard, from Mount Pleasant in Norwich, said: “I focus on older people and carers in the city. A lot of the volunteering is about finding out how well the services work and how we can make improvements.
“My husband’s condition, compressed spinal cord, affects the way nerves travel around the body. It didn’t just start it’s been going on progressively for around five years, so he stopped being able to do things like the ironing, which I’ve taken on. It’s not really that hard because it’s come on so gradually.
“Helping to get things right for other people is important, and making sure people get asked what they need rather than having things done to them.
“The services we have had are very good, but the one area I have problems with is information. The language used in adult health and social care is not that accessible. I think it’s important that people understand how things work and they know where to get help if they need it. People need a person they can turn to in the first instance, somebody in a team or social worker to turn to in a crisis. What’s needed is simplification, there are so many teams out there and knowing where is difficult.”
Debbie Foster, Alzheimer’s Society area manager for Norfolk and Suffolk, said: “Dementia is now the UK’s biggest killer. We need to unite against dementia to improve care, offer help and understanding and find new treatments for the 14,000 people with the condition in Norfolk.
“It is great to see that we already have 19 communities across the county working to become dementia friendly – where people with dementia are understood, respected, supported, and confident they can contribute to community life. It means creating a community which is more supportive and kinder to everyone.
“These communities are working hard to assess the way they deliver services and change the way they respond. From the taxi driver to the hairdresser and the bus company to the newsagent, everyone can identify what they can do to support people to continue to do the things they want to.
“We encourage more individual communities to get involved and what better way to take action in 2019 than to unite during Dementia Action Week, 20-26 May. There are lots of ways to get involved which can be found by visiting alzheimers.org.uk/DAW.”