Why preventative care is so crucial for older people

Prevention and early intervention are becoming increasingly important watchwords in public services, especially in the fields of health and social care. The reasons for this are plain to see.

According to the Office of National Statistics, the number of people aged 16-64 in Wales will decrease by 81,000 between 2016 and 2041, while the number of people aged 65 and over will increase by 232,000 over the same period.

There is no doubt that we have an ageing population, and the NHS is seemingly awash with older people needing ambulance services, visiting A&E, being admitted to hospital and becoming stuck there, or visiting their GP.

But we need to find better ways of making sure that we’re not just living longer but living better.

This must surely include a home that is suitably adapted to allow safe, independent access to living areas, kitchen, bathrooms and bedrooms. It must also mean a home that is warm and able to be adequately heated without compromising someone’s ability to buy food or use public transport.

A safe home promotes independence and good health because it doesn’t have trip hazards, isn’t damp, doesn’t have dangerous old electrics, or a leaking roof.

Four out of five older people in Wales are owner occupiers, while fourty-three per cent of people aged over 75 in Wales live alone as single pensioners. As they grow older, the harsh reality for many is they cannot afford to maintain their homes and find it difficult to make practical arrangements for carrying out essential repairs like mending the roof, damp-proofing or renewing old boilers.

And if they don’t complete these works, many of which are low cost but have a big impact, the consequences can be serious, with many suffering accidents, falls, respiratory illness and circulatory disease all caused by living in a cold, damp or dangerous home.

NHS figures point to a third of people aged over 65 and half of those aged over 80 falling at least once a year. This often leads to devastating injuries and a repeat cycle of falling. In fact, falls are the most common cause of injury related deaths in people over the age of 75.

Living in a cold home can also be fatal, with thousands of winter deaths for the over 65s every year. Additionally, 140,000 older people in Wales live in fuel poverty, which means they need to spend 10 per cent or more of their disposable income on energy bills. Those with the greatest need for heating all too often end up sitting in arm-chairs, wrapped in a blanket instead of putting the heating on, or are forced to choose between heating and eating.

So, there is a huge human cost to living in poor housing, but also a huge economic cost to the public purse. Figures taken from a Building Research Establishment report in 2014 suggest that the cost of poor housing to the NHS in Wales is £156 million per year.

At Care & Repair, we make it our mission to speak up for older people and help them live independently in warm, safe and accessible homes. As a charitable organisation, we provide services in the hearts of communities across Wales, working closely with partners in Welsh Government, health, social care, housing and the rest of the third sector.

We aim to provide quick, relatively low cost, preventative solutions to housing problems. Last year we helped over 40,000 older people in total, carried out over £11.5 million of repairs, 17,000 small adaptations, helped over 22,000 with safety and falls prevention work and increased older people’s income levels from claiming benefits they are entitled to by over £6 million.

We help make older people’s lives better by making them safer, warmer and more independent. We also make their homes fit and safe to return to if they are admitted to hospital, helping to speed up their safe discharge, and preventing them being re-admitted.

We argue strongly that prevention is better than cure when it comes to older people, housing, health and social care. We will continue to make this case and help older people who want to continue to live in the homes and communities they have lived in for most of their lives and remain close to their friends and neighbours.

And we will continue to make the case for additional funding for our services so that we can help those in need who we can’t currently help, and that our service not only helps older people live happier, more independent lives, but also makes better economic sense for the public purse.

Chris Jones Chief Executive of Care & Repair Cymru