Older people still not getting the quality of life they deserve

15th Jan 2010

JRF is launching new work on how quality of life can really be improved for older people with high support needs. Philly Hare explains.

If you have read the news this week you can’t fail to have noticed that there are more reports of many older people in the UK not receiving the care they deserve or need.

Sir Michael Parkinson's report, 'My year as national dignity ambassador', highlighted the lack of dignity in care for older people and stated that 'We need to banish outdated attitudes and assumptions that can be a barrier to good quality care'. We at the JRF wholly support Sir Michael's views, but would go even further and suggest that 'dignity' is too low an aspiration for older people: what they, like everyone else, need, want and value, is 'quality of life' – whatever that means to each individual.

Recent research for the JRF showed that older people who need a lot of support are often seen as a burden, with little or no expectation of a fulfilling life. Over the next five years, JRF's 'A Better Life' programme will look at how life can be improved for older people with high support needs (including people with dementia), whether they live in their own home, a care home, or a housing with care scheme. A major strand of this work is a partnership with My Home Life: an independent initiative which works with the care home industry to improve the quality of life of those living and working in care homes.

In another report out yesterday ('Improving dementia services in England') the National Audit Office said that the government’s promise to make dementia a ‘national priority’ has not been actioned at a local level. The report stated that '…it is unlikely that the intended and much needed transformation of services will be delivered within the strategy's five year timeframe."

Our concern is that the momentum which the strategy promised – particularly in terms of support for both paid and unpaid carers, and training – will be lost. Our evidence clearly demonstrates the importance of involving front-line practitioners in helping to change the culture of caring, the need for skills in communication and involvement in achieving person-centred care, and the role of training and evidence-based tools.

Our research also shows how developing the skills and confidence of the workforce in specific areas, such as pain recognition , night time issues  and use of communication tools , can really contribute to ‘quality of life’ for the individual with dementia.

There is no short-cut to achieving dignity and quality of life for older people with high support needs. A wider and more imaginative range of options, plus staff who are well-trained and who understand the needs and rights of those they care for, is essential.