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Too many people are leaving it too late to get practical about independence

As a society, we need to get real about aging: a change of mind-set is required. Ageing is a fact of life, we all need to prepare for it but too few of us do. As people age, changes in their bodies affect their abilities - failing eyesight, hearing and impaired mobility make it harder for people to lead active lives and maintain their chosen lifestyle. This reality is hard to accept; many people resist it and ‘soldier on’ as if nothing has changed.

While some older people live in a state of denial about aging, others are so accepting of it that they, too, do too little. ‘Why fight it?’ is a common line of reasoning around old age.

Being practical can help. Embracing and using everyday supports to daily living before things become critical can lessen the psychological impact of aging. This can be very positive.

A lead can be taken from other counties. In Sweden, for example, municipalities planning housing and residential areas are required to ensure that they meet the needs of elderly people and those with disabilities. In such homes, accessibility is a priority. Some are newly built, while others are regular homes that have been made more accessible as part of conversion or renovation work. The UK has a large proportion of older housing stock and a combination of adaptations and use of suitable assistive technology can significantly extend the viability of those homes in later life.

DLF knows all too well that most people wait for a crisis before researching and considering such options. A fall, an accident involving a carer, an urgent need to return home from hospital, these are the typical scenarios that lead to a call to our helpline or visit to our websites.

Research carried out by AGE UK several years ago found that there can be profound psychological barriers to adopting assistive technologies (AT). As with many independent living solutions, the use of AT can be seen by some as ‘giving in’ to the inevitable where as in fact it is designed to help prolong a person’s independence. The study found that despite a wealth of information on inclusive design, some AT is still either poorly designed or not easy to operate. So, given good design, older people welcome technology provided they can see it will help them live their lives the way they want. These technologies can be anything from pendant emergency alarms and telecare to blood pressure monitors and electric wheelchairs. The usual explanation is that older people just won’t use technology. However, this research project gathered data from older people, health and social care professionals and commissioners came to different conclusions.

Then there is the perceived cost of these solutions and the challenges of using it every day. These challenges can make the user feel even more out of touch – even inept. Studies have found that some AT is packaged with instructions that can make the technology hard to use – especially for someone with compromised vision. Such problems can combine to further reinforce the psychological barriers to the adoption of AT. However, DLF is determined to address this by making people aware of the 1000’s of AT solutions which are available and the benefits they can bring in helping with everyday life.

Addressing practical issues around ageing proactively can be beneficial to all concerned and by acting well before the issue becomes a crisis people can learn how to integrate the equipment into their everyday lives sooner. Living Made Easy can help.

Ed Mylles, Interim Director at Living Made Easy, said: 'Attitudes to ageing are changing, but not quickly enough, given the realities of demographic shift. One of the DLF’s founders Lord Morris talked about ‘adding life to years’ through use of equipment many years ago. There is still a stigma associated with aids to independent living for the aged, however. We are determined to change this. We will do whatever we can to catalyse the social transformation that is needed to support people during the ageing process.'

'We believe the government could do more to raise awareness about the equipment, support and funding that’s available. We are all too often contacted by people on behalf of someone who is suddenly in crisis who needs equipment immediately. We urge anyone with a loved one, friend or neighbour approaching the later stages of life to act now.'

Living Made Easy can reduce risk and cost caused by purchasing unsuitable equipment and by providing impartial, expert advice on product types and a range of potential suppliers. The website offers over 10,000 products from over 950 suppliers and provide everything from small items, that make a world of difference like grab rails and walkers, to more substantial technology like stair lifts and telecare monitoring systems.

'It is vital that people remain independent for as long as possible and live in their own homes - not only from a financial point of view but also from a mental health perspective: it’s widely accepted that the longer people remain in their home, the happier and healthier they are both physically and mentally. Early adoption of Living Made Easy AT can help to enable this,' Mylles concluded.

Please see www.livingmadeeasy.org.uk for more about our comprehensive AT products and services.

Notes to editors
Living Made Easy is part of Disabled Living Foundation (DLF) a national charity that has been providing expert and impartial advice on equipment for independent living for nearly 50 years. Its mission is to help people live independently at home with dignity. Living Made Easy offers free, impartial advice about daily living equipment, including information on where you can buy items, and details of local organisations that can help you.
Website: www.livingmadeeasy.org.uk
Helpline: 0300 999 0004. The phone lines are open 10am-4pm, Monday to Friday.

Alf Morris
Known as the ‘quiet revolutionary’, Alf Morris became MP for Wythenshawe. He went on to become the world’s first Minister for Disabled People - and later, Lord Morris of Manchester.

Morris was a true social reformer who made an enduring difference to the world around him. His achievements included the passing of The Chronically Sick & Disabled Persons Act (1970): the first Act to recognise and give rights to disabled people. Adopted as a template by other nations, it transformed the lives of millions of disabled people in the UK and worldwide.

Alf Morris was one of the UK’s foremost social reformers. He was also DLF's longest-serving Vice-President. He was closely involved with the charity since its inception in 1969, and remained active in that role until his death in August 2012.

For more information please contact Amanda Shiel, Knowledge Manager
Email: amanda.shiel@dlf.org.uk
Tel: 020 7432 8008

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