Advancing years - choice not chance
That change took place over a period of 100 years but another even more fundamental shift is about to happen in less than 30 years – and we in Warminster are in a poor position to cope.
That change involves the explosion in the number of people aged over 85 who will be in need of sustained and expensive help.
The transition is already taking place as there are now more over 65s than under 16s in the population. According to the Office for National Statistics life expectancy at birth for those born in 2006 in England is projected to be 88.1 years for males and 91.5 years for females.
Even today a man who reaches age 65 can expect to live until 85.6 years – the figures also show that in parts of Warminster, such as the BA12 8 postcode sector, life expectancy is two years higher than the national average.
In a few short years we in Warminster will have an army of very old people, many of them still healthy, but others unable to cope without considerable assistance.
This change will put ever greater pressure on care providers and increase demand on health funding.
And although caring for older people will always be a core public service, we need to make sure we can provide people with the choice of high quality care that they need.
We need to ensure there is:
Effective healthcare, sooner
Frontline service, not more bureaucrats.
Community support and activities to provide older people with ‘a life’.
A lonely old age
According to Help the Aged one million elderly people say they are often or always lonely and tragically it seems to be those who face the greatest financial struggle who are also the most lonely.
Amy Swan, policy manager for social inclusion at Help the Aged said: “It’s such a tragic state of affairs when older people tell us that that the only person they see from week to week is the postman.
“Isolation and loneliness are not inevitable side-effects of the ageing process, but the life events associated with older age can leave people vulnerable.
“Poverty, bereavement, far-flung families and failing health can all play a part, and while living alone is for some a preferred life choice, for others it can be one of the key risk factors leading to someone becoming isolated and also lonely.”
While her comments are perhaps most applicable to larger cities, in Warminster we need to be aware and devise ways now to help our current older generation and cater for the strains on the system that will increase as time goes by.
A new community centre
We feel there is a lack of meeting facilities in the town where older people can get together chat in a social situation and mix with other members of the community.
One of the tragedies of British society is that, unlike on the continent, the various age groups do not seem to mix socially – perhaps this is a function of our greater geographical mobility, smaller families and the decline of extended families.
To remedy this we need a full blown community centre in the heart of the town where people can meet, come for a meal, teach each other new skills and be comfortable.
Such a place could be the Assembly Hall which is underused and a waste of space at present.
It needs to be in use seven days a week and be one of the hubs of the community.
It needs a new role, a new interior, a new focus and probably a new name - few would argue if we were to rename it the Joan Main Centre as a fitting recognition of Mrs Main's decades of service to the community.
Exactly what you would include inside this centre can be thrashed out in detail over time but we are sure it is necessary.
Accommodation needs are special
The population explosion in the very old will inevitably mean more demand for the sort of accommodation required by the super old.
We must meet this demand as otherwise we will fail the old.
They need homes with wider doors, stairs that accommodate a stairlift, level walkways with good lighting, many aids and adaptations so that hoists can be used.
We need to ensure that people retain as much dignity as possible and are able to stay in their own homes for as long as possible before moving into residential care or nursing homes.
In past times every housing scheme for elderly people had a resident warden who had time to chat to their elderly neighbours but those days have largely gone and wardens replaced by mobile wardens in the name of efficiency.
We would seek to reverse this trend by bringing back resident wardens.
If necessary we would also seek to build new council run nursing and residential care homes.
In Wiltshire the council transferred its homes to a not for profit organisation some years ago but in Hampshire they kept them and there they provide the gold standard for care homes.
Their success has been such that Hampshire County Council was able to build and provide an additional 500 bed spaces of its own over the past two years in partnership with the Primary Care Trust.
We should follow Hampshire’s example in Wiltshire.
Help urgently required for carers
Old age not only causes problems for the old but also for their carers.
Warminster is not overburdened with places where carers can go for help and advice when they discover a parent or partner is suffering from dementia and needs extra support.
Across the country there is a network of 141 centres operating under the auspices of The Princess Royal Trust for Carers.
None is within easy reach of Warminster.
These centres provide information, advice and guidance, act as advocates and liaise with statutory bodies and sort out opportunities for respite care.
They also act as a carers’ support group and provide counselling.
A Warminster carer centre is badly needed as help and advice in this town is lamentable.
Finally Warminster hospital needs to be brought back into full use as at the present time many of the most vulnerable face isolation in Bath or Salisbury hospitals when they need support.
Our vision is a town where people can enjoy their extended old age not suffer it in lonely impoverished silence.