FFE Magazine

Foster elderly friends, says charity

by FFE EU News staff


Photo source: Alamy

The ‘epidemic of isolation’ – this is how innovation charity Nesta chief executive Geoff Mulgan described Britain’s dependence on care homes for their elderly.

‘We have a very mobile, individualistic society,’ said Mulgan. ‘Many visitors from poorer countries are shocked when they see how we treat our older people.’

To combat this epidemic, Nesta proposed that Brits ‘foster’ their elderly friends – that neighbourhoods be in charge of the frail should their own families fail to look after them.

Nesta said since many families live away from their elderly, neighbourhoods must step up and take responsibility. ‘Where they don’t have family near to hand we need to look at new approaches. There is fostering for older people, where if they don’t have a family near to hand they go and live with another family.’ Neighbourhood Watch schemes can also be tapped to care for older people.

Mulgan also expressed his belief that care homes have been staging grounds for ‘abuse,’  saying: ‘People have applied methods essentially from factories to care, targeting the number of minutes needed to dress or feed someone, rather than caring for them as a human being.’

Their proposal came after health secretary Jeremy Hunt revealed a ‘national shame’ – that 1 million older people have been neglected by society. He has said that 5 million people count the television as their ‘main form of company.’

The secretary planned to open a national debate tackling society’s attitude towards the elderly, as he was concerned they have been frozen out by friends, relatives and neighbours. He wished British families would emulate their Asian neighbours who tended to look after their elderly in their own homes.

Hunt pointed out Asian societies where care homes were ‘a last rather than a first option.

‘The social contract is stronger because as children see how their own grandparents are looked after, they develop higher expectations of how they too will be treated when they get old.

‘If we are to tackle the challenge of an ageing society, we must learn from this – and restore and reinvigorate the social contract between generations. And uncomfortable though it is to say it, it will only start with changes in the way we personally treat our own parents and grandparents.’

Other sectors however are not so supportive of the health secretary. Professor of gerontology at King’s College in London Anthea Tinker, for example, has criticised Hunt for claiming that the elderly are generally better cared for in Asia – especially by using China as a basis for comparison.

She said ‘We’ve got to knock the myths on the head. In eastern Asia there is great respect and reverence for elderly people, but the reality is with one-child families the children are just often not there because they’ve moved to a city. It’s not practical for families to depend on their children.’

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