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How to stay independent in later life

Carol Martin talks to people making different choices about how they live as they get older

Eighty-year-old Keith Swindells leads a very full life. A keen walker, he can take the disused railway either way to Guildford or Cranleigh from his rented flat in Bramley. Books line his lounge so it is handy that the library is next door and he is an active member of the church a few hundred yards away.

“I am totally independent” Keith explains. “I’m in a safe place and if something happens and my condition deteriorates then I am not dependent on my family. I would have help to get the right services in.”

Keith lives in council run Blunden Court in Bramley High Street. There are 28 self-contained flats alongside resident facilities including lounges, laundry rooms and attractive gardens. Catering for those over 60 (or over 55 with a disability) this type of accommodation used to be called ‘sheltered housing’ . But it has been aptly renamed ‘independent living’ according to visiting manager Lucy Hunter.

Residents here are not all as physically active as Keith. That doesn’t matter as carers can come and go and assist them as required. The manager here will work on a support plan with a resident to assess risks and daily living needs and will check on residents every day. There are social activities organised every day of the week so nobody living here needs to feel isolated or lonely.

Lucy Hunter says that one of the best parts of her role as a manager is showing people around. Potential residents say they were expecting a clinical, residential home where they were told what to do. They are pleasantly surprised. Lucy says “Once here they say ‘it’s the best thing I ever did’ and ‘I wish I had done this sooner’. “
It seems paradoxical that by accepting help you can keep your independence in later life for as long as possible. You might choose to move into a different type of accommodation so that you no longer have to climb the stairs or tackle maintenance and gardening. Or you might decide to stay in your own home and organise some sort of care to help with daily living. There is a lot of choice now to enable you to keep in control of how you live your life.

Between 2006 and 2026 it is estimated that the number of people aged 60 and over will increase by 29%. Figures in the 85+ age group show an increase of 60%. So there are a lot of us who will need to find out about the options available and make decisions as we age and our needs change.

Mr and Mrs Bell chose to move to a purpose-built retirement village, see below. Others like Keith have some on-site support from a manager and a domestic.

Retirement Village – The choice of Mr and Mrs Bell
On the first of October we moved into a two bedroom Villa in Richmond Village at Painswick, Gloucestershire. My wife Noni had seen an advertisement in a local magazine.

We felt it was time to leave our four bedroom house in Chipping Campden and its garden and take advantage of the amenities available in some form of retirement home. At our age, 87 and 84, it was time to do some serious planning before nature forced our hand.

Richmond Painswick appealed to me particularly as it has a Spa and I like swimming. It seemed appropriate for Noni too as she had just spent almost two months in hospital with a broken hip and had lost mobility. This had resulted in our having to curtail our social activity very considerably.

While our family did their best to help us we didn’t want to become a burden, and Richmond Painswick could offer a solution. They had a care home next door and a restaurant.

Our accommodation is ideal. We were fortunate to be offered a villa just as our house in Campden was sold. Taking on a lease as opposed to full ownership means we don’t need to worry about the building, either maintenance or insurance. We were able to refurbish to our specification under the terms of the lease, enjoying the support of Richmond Painswick management at the same time.

Having lived in our villa for five months, we are convinced we made a wise choice. Richmond management has been very helpful when needed, and we have met several other owners who are becoming our friends. The restaurant chef has gone out of his way to accommodate Noni’s vegetarian preferences. The swimming pool and sauna are as good as it gets!

Looking back, we were wise to make our move while we both felt totally in control. Being 80 doesn’t necessarily focus the mind, but it should. A move at this stage in life is manageable and procrastination can steal the best from the last decades.

We would seriously recommend choosing a retirement village. Don’t wait till fortune forces the move. You might wind up somewhere else!

Homeshare is another option. This is where someone is at home and needs help with daily living and is matched with a person who needs housing and will offer practical support in return for a roof over their head. Assisted living is one step up from sheltered housing with additional support in place. This might include help with meals and personal care. Close care is good for couples who live next to a care home and can have outreach support.

All of these are alternatives to residential homes that most of us think of when we imagine care in later life. Care homes still suit many and despite perceptions need not mean a complete loss of independence.

At charity run Abbeyfield Wey Valley Society residential homes in Farnham, staff work hard to provide person-centred care. With close links to the local community they have a large group of volunteers who visit, organise outings and help with hospital trips. They also have an open door policy within the homes for friends and family.

Mr Nicholson (above right) who lives in the residential wing of Hatch Mill says of his experience: ”The environment, medical and daily care provided by Abbeyfield Wey Valley Society, along with the social activities are all very positive. This allows me to be in reasonable control of my life with further assistance from my family who are always welcome when they visit.” Life must be good for Mr Nicholson – he is regularly seen in the sun lounge enjoying a glass of lager while doing the crossword, see left!

Not everyone wants to move in later life. Many people prefer to stay in their own homes with their treasured possessions or pets and where precious memories have been made.

The answer can be live-in care. Rosamond Lomax and her brother organised live-in care for their mother after she was widowed, approaching 90 and suffering from poor mobility. Rosamond’s mother had spent her career in the visual arts and as a fashion designer and was anxious to get back to her own beautiful home environment after a recuperative spell in a nursing home.

With a sharp mind and an keen interest in politics and current affairs Rosamond’s mother needed the right carer to provide the social interaction she was looking for. Rosamond went to specialist live-in care agency Loga Care in Bentley, Farnham to get help. With 250 carers on their books Loga Care is able to match the personalities of the carer to the client, mindful that they will be sharing the same home.

Abbeyfield Wey Valley – 01252 735507
www.abbeyfieldweyvalley.co.uk

Loga Care – 01252 852100, www.logacare.com

Hexagon Healthcare – 01252 350095, www.hexagonhealthcare.co.uk

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