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Why is elderly care such a contentious subject?

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Posted on 1st November 2011.

Caring for an elderly loved one is a natural part of life’s story; families have been doing it since time began. So why is the subject of elderly care so contentious in the UK?

There are two main reasons.

The first reason is well known.  Whilst it’s true that children have always cared for their elderly parents, what’s changed over the last 30 years is the sheer number of elderly people who require care.  The over 80s, already the fastest growing demographic group in Britain, are expected to double in number to reach more than 5 million by 2030.  Indeed a recent report from the University of New South Wales concluded that by the end of this decade drugs will be available which will raise the prospect of people living to 150…or even longer.

The second reason that elderly care is a major issue in the UK is less openly discussed but is just as relevant.  Over the last 50 years, the UK has experienced a cultural shift which has seen less elderly people cared for by their families and more cared for in institutions.  It seems that in modern day Britain, caring for an elderly relative ourselves is something that not as many of us are prepared to do.

This perturbing change in people’s attitudes is often attributed to one of many reasons – our busy lifestyles, current financial pressures, importance of our careers, the list goes on.  The problem with these explanations is that people in other countries also have busy lives, they also have financial pressures and they also have important jobs, yet they seem to be able to juggle these responsibilities with the care of their elderly parents, in a way that we simply are not.

In Spain the residential care sector is much smaller than in the UK because the elderly are traditional cared for by their families, whilst Chinese authorities are so concerned with the care of its elderly citizens, that a law has been proposed which will make it illegal for grown up children to not take responsibility for the care of their parents.  In India there is burgeoning tourism sector specifically for elderly care, where elderly people from other parts of the world (notable the U.S and UK) re-locate to India for their final few years, not just because of the cheaper care costs involved but also because Indian attitudes to the elderly are generally much more positive than we are used to.

Discovering that your parents are no longer able to take care of their own needs is one of life’s great shocks. But this shock does not necessarily have to lead to either a residential care home or a child giving up work to care for their Mum or Dad.   Care providers around the country are developing innovate care solutions which provide quality care needs for the elderly and peace of mind for the parents.  Helping Hands works with closely with the families to develop a partnership approach to care which is built around the needs of the customer; our approach has enabled thousands of elderly people across the county to remain in their own homes, maintaining their independence and improving the both quality of their lives and the state of mind of their families.

The British are not the Spanish, the Chinese or the Indians, whose solutions would probably not work here, but elderly care does not need to be such a controversial issue in this country.  With the right balance of professional care and family responsibility, we can surely guarantee that our elderly and most vulnerable are treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve.  Old age affects us all, so let’s hope so.

Sally Tomkotowicz