PEOPLE are living longer than ever.
Advances in treatment, medical care and the increasing emphasis means illnesses which once may have been fatal can now be survived, or avoided.
Now, almost one in five people will reach their 100th birthday.
This is obviously welcome news for everyone, but it is also causing health and social care policymakers increasing worry.
With more people living longer, more people are likely to be living in poor health, putting health and care services under greater strain.
As funding for this area is increasingly squeezed, how the system will cope is an ever-more pressing question.
Last month, a report spelled this out in stark detail – the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) warned that currently most care for older people is provided by family members, but soon it wouldn’t be enough.
By 2017, there will not be enough family members available to give care to all those elderly people who need it.
And by 2030, the report estimates that there will be more than two million over-65s with no children living nearby to care for them.
“Overstretched services will struggle to provide extra care, with two-thirds of all health resources already devoted to older people and social care services facing a funding crisis,” the IPPR said.
The report adds that changes must be made to stave off this crisis – such as have already been made in Leeds.
One of the recommendations in the IPPR report is for more Neighbourhood Networks, which are running across the city.
These locally-based organisations help older people to live independently and remain active in their communities.
They provide services to cut down on isolation, such as befriending, fitness or knit and natter groups, activities like workshops and support for conditions like dementia and stroke.
Networks also provide opportunities for volunteering, information and advice.
The IPPR says the networks “offer a focal point in a local area to bring people together to help each other out.
“The actions are often simple in themselves, but cumulatively they create abundant value. In addition to older people themselves, they benefit families, friends, carers and employers – and ultimately the state.”
Dennis Holmes, Leeds City Council’s deputy director of adult social services, said the report highlight the “immense” challenges faced, but added: “Whilst those challenges are undoubtedly a daunting prospect, it is also hugely encouraging to see the report recognise Neighbourhood Networks as having a pivotal role in shaping the way older people should be supported to live safe, independent lives in their communities.”
Keeping older people physically active and interacting with others allows them to stay well for longer, networks can provide extra support for families and can help carers by giving them respite or allowing them to juggle caring with work more easily,
The benefits are already being felt in Leeds – the number of people using home care is falling and the average age of admissions to residential homes is increasing.
Coun Adam Ogilvie, Leeds City Council’s executive member for adult social care, added that they were delighted that the work had been recognised: “Our Neighbourhood Networks are setting the standard nationally.
“The diverse range of activities and services offered are integral to our effort towards tackling social isolation and loneliness among older people living in the city.
“To that end, the number of activities available has increased and diversified over the last 12 months and as a result the number of people attending them has also risen.
“The schemes are also working really hard to engage with younger, more active older people as well, in an effort to continually attract new members and ideas.
“We’re proud to say they are a fundamental cornerstone of everything we want adult social care in Leeds to be and as they grow and evolve, we hope they can continue to point the way for others to follow.”