Despite the pace and immediacy of modern life, many people are pressing pause on their busy days to ponder what the future might hold. In a study of over 7,000 people conducted by Bupa, nearly a quarter (24%) think about what old age will be like at least a few times a week, while one in ten (11%) consider it on a daily basis.
While it's good to know that people are thinking about their future, many people are concerned about their future wellbeing. Sixty-six per cent of those surveyed say they worry about staying healthy and independent in old age, while 61% are worried about how much money they will need. Over three quarters of people surveyed expect to have care needs in old age, and 63% worry about developing dementia.
Another concern is who will care for us. Many people expect to have care needs in older age, but only 61% expect to be cared for by family, and 19% don't know where their care will come from. Most worryingly, just under a quarter (24%) of the people we spoke to feel that older people are valued by society.
As the proportion of people over 80 is expected to increase almost fourfold over the next 50 years, the role older people play as well as their needs and desires must be recognised.
It's clear from the research that people have some realistic concerns about their needs and potential health challenges in old age. With more people living longer than ever before, it is realistic to expect an increase in people with care needs in older age, and a rise in dementia caused by Alzheimer's disease and other untreatable brain diseases. However, whether or not people develop care needs, old age can be a fulfilling time when people are valued and treated with respect.
One of the biggest social challenges for people in older age is that they are treated with less individuality than in their younger, healthier years. We often talk about 'the elderly' as if they are a homogeneous group. People become known by their age and defined by their weaknesses. This is even more likely if the aged person has dementia. Some people assume that living with dementia and being affected by diminishing mental faculties means that the person with the condition loses their personality, feelings and preferences. This creates a risk of older people with care needs, particularly those with dementia, being offered one-size-fits-all care based on their condition, not their individual needs.
But as we age, and whether we have dementia or not, our ways of living and personalities remain our own, which is why, if care is required, it should be provided in a manner that meets the person's needs and wishes.
Aged care should be focused on the person first and not their condition, listening to and thinking about the individual, to meet their needs in the way that they want. At Bupa we call this 'Person First' care. We try to understand who each resident is, what they want and need, what their interests are and what life is like for them living with care needs. This could be through enabling someone living in a care home to walk on the beach if they've lived near the sea all their life, or helping people to plant flowers if they've got a passion for gardening. It's about knowing and understanding their wishes and desires, but also their fears and frustrations.
If people in older age were universally valued by society and treated as individuals regardless of their capabilities, then we could all start imagining a much happier future for ourselves.
Bupa is collecting and sharing stories to celebrate Person First care and demonstrate how starting with the individual helps create happier lives in older age.