Are there options available for independent retirement living in your own home, even when the odds are stacked against it?
Independent living in our retirement is something we all wish for. To stay in our own home no matter what. Our home is where we usually feel safe and comfortable surrounded by our memories of the life we've had and hold dear.
In our own home we can choose what we do and when we do it. We can eat our meals when we want and best of all we can choose what we eat.
If we want to stay up and watch the midnight movie and get up late then we can.
If we want to make a cup of tea in the middle of the night when we can't sleep, then we can.
Our choice on all of these things is usually taken away should we ever have to give up on independent retirement living and go into care.
Unfortunately illness or accidents can change everything and it's not always possible to maintain our independent retirement living. Before we know it the words that we all dread to hear are being said "Perhaps you should start to think about putting your mother/father/loved one in a home". It's the most terrible decision to have to make.
Of course if someone needs expert care and nursing that can't be delivered in the home then we have no option, but if it's a question of personal care, a little light housework and companionship then there are alternatives.
It might be worth checking out the possibility of Palliative Care first.
There are all kinds of retirement properties that will help us to maintain independent retirement living longer than if we continue to live in a large family home where we've brought up a family.
If you've lived in a property a long time you could be faced with large gardens to maintain, inefficient heating systems and rising costs for general maintenance.
Once we reach the age of 55 years old we have access to all kinds of different retirement developments.
We can choose:
Mum had Alzheimers and she lived in a retirement apartment which is a great way to maintain independent retirement living. There was a House Manager and an emergency Care Line support service which had a cord in every room of the apartment. If she felt ill or she was stuck with something she could call one or the other for help.
For a couple of years it worked very well with me popping in every day to see her or telephoning her if I was unable to physically go. However as she began to deteriorate we had to start putting additonal things in place to help her.
Living in a retirement apartment meant that there were other residents that had the benefit of services from private Care Companies. Mum was classed as 'self funding' so she didn't qualify for help from Social Services. We contacted the Care Company that were providing help for other residents as they were highly recommended and they came to visit and put a care plan in place for her.
At first we employed someone to come in a couple of times a week to do household tasks like changing the bed, doing the laundry. a little local shopping and sometimes just sitting and chatting over a cup of coffee. It didn't cost a huge amount as it was only a couple of hours twice a week.
As she became more frail, we increased the visits to every day when someone came and helped her to get up in the morning, helped with bathing, dressing and making sure she had some breakfast and she took her medication.
With me providing some ready prepared meals for her to use we also had ready prepared frozen meals delivered each week so that all she had to do for her main meal was pop one in the oven and enjoy it if she wasn't eating with us.
The cost for this was helped by the fact that she qualified for Attendance Allowance which is not means tested and anyone that needs help through physical or mental illness can apply for it. If you are caring for someone it's worth checking out which benefits you could be entitled to.
Because Mum had Dementia she also qualified for exemption from paying her property tax. This released approximately £100 a month which added to the Attendance Allowance gave us the necessary money to fund the cost of care without dipping into savings. A lot cheaper than paying for 24 hour care in a community care home.
We were very lucky that Mum was able to maintain her independent retirement living staying in her own apartment for some six years with this kind of help and support and she only had to spend a few weeks in a care home before she died.
Care UK have recently released their ABC Guide which you can download. It provides some excellent information and support for people caring for an elderly loved one suffering from dementia -www.careuk.com/
One of my neighbours is 90 years old and still enjoys independent retirement living even though because of an accident some years ago she has mobility problems. She can only walk with the help of a walking frame.
She is lucky enough to live in a bungalow so there are no stairs to negotiate but she gets lonely because her family don't live locally. She has employed the services of a Company called Country Cousins.
Country Cousins supply live in help either on a temporary basis if perhaps someone was just recovering from an operation or accident. They also provide permanent ongoing help and companionship for those wishing to retain their independent retirement living.
They usually assign 2-3 Carers to each client to work on a rota basis, so that the Country Cousin gets to know the client and quite often they become friends.
To employ a Country Cousin you have to have a comfortably furnished spare bedroom with a T.V. or radio, so that the Country Cousin has a room of their own that they can retreat to.
They obviously have to be allowed a reasonable amount of time off each day as no-one is able to work 24/7.
This is usually arranged direct with the Client so that perhaps when the Client is enjoying an afternoon nap the Country Cousin can enjoy some downtime of their own.
Live in care is more expensive than a few hours a week, but it enables someone to retain independent retirement living for much longer in their own home then it would otherwise be possible.
A recent article in the Daily Mail suggests that cash strapped middle class families are employing Au Pairs as live in minders for their elderly relatives. This practice is quite common abroad particularly in some European countries such as Greece and Italy.
Whilst this could provide a solution for continued independent retirement living for the elderly it could put vulnerable elderly people at risk.
If you employ a care company to provide caregivers they will have carried out the necessary CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) checks on employees and hopefully provided some basic training.
Emily Holzhausen, of charity Carers UK, said: ‘What we are seeing here is families’ response to the fact that the care system just does not meet their needs. The whole care system is in crisis and is chronically under-funded. Families are largely left to fend for themselves when it comes to finding care.
‘It is enormously difficult at quite a stressful time and they are desperate for a solution.’
She added: ‘In some circumstances, for people with lower needs, and with an au pair coming to the UK to learn English and live with a family, it can work. [But] it can go wrong if there’s a misunderstanding or the family expects the person coming into the home to do too much.
‘If we are talking about someone providing more intensive care, personal care, to a person, that needs thinking about carefully.’
If you're in a position where your elderly relatives need help to retain their independent retirement living there are alternatives to community care homes which should only be chosen when all other options have been exhausted.
Whichever arrangement you decide to enter into to help your loved one retain their independent retirement living there are certain precautions that need to be taken. These will ensure the person you're employing will treat your loved one with dignity, respect and kindness.
Ensure that you put some guidelines and information together on your loved one's preferences and habits.
In view of recent horror stories of neglect and ill treatment of vulnerable elderly patients that we've all read about and seen on different television programmes it would be advisable to check regularly that everything is going well. Always be on the lookout for signs of distress or unhappiness that could indicate any underlying problems.
I found it particularly useful to have a notebook that I could write messages and questions in to the Carers, or any instructions for the day. Similarly they could leave me a message if they had any queries about Mum's care or comfort.
I also found it useful to give a little history in the notebook of Mum's background, what work she did when she was younger, a bit about my Father and when he died, how many children and grandchildren she had with names and ages. Places she'd lived and travelled to.
All of these things can help the Carer get to know the client and gives topics for conversations to help build a relationship between your loved one and the Carer.
Anything that we can do to extend the amount of time our loved ones continue to enjoy independent retirement living in their own home is surely worth investigating.
For more information and resources explore the links below.