Who wants to live forever? - Ageing issues
This section explores the issue of caring for the elderly.
- How is increased longevity bringing new challenges for individuals and societies as a whole?
- How might this impact on you in the future?
How is increased longevity bringing new challenges for individuals and societies as a whole?
How can we afford older people? This question makes sense only if we assume that older people are consumers of public resources rather than contributors to the national wealth. Many old people are working past pensionable age and are healthy. They are not drawing on public health resources.
However, the longer people live, the more likely it is that they will require medical care and support. Pension funds are already increasing the contributions they demand from current members, because they fear that when employees retire they will live far longer than originally thought - threatening to bankrupt the pension scheme. And governments around the world are concerned that the rising cost of state pensions and health care for the elderly will put serious strains on their fiscal systems.
One of the most widely documented negative impacts of an ageing population is the rising number of people with dementia. Dementia is a term used to describe over 100 different brain disorders and illnesses, with one of the most common being Alzheimer's disease. Dementia causes a loss of memory and brain function that is usually progressive and eventually severe. Symptoms include loss of memory, confusion and problems with speech and understanding.
Facts about dementia:
- Dementia costs the UK £17 billion per year, or £539 per second
- One in three people will live to develop some form of dementia
- Seven hundred thousand people in the UK are affected by dementia, and over half have Alzheimer's disease. In less than 20 years nearly one million people will be living with dementia. This will soar to 1.7 million people by 2051
- Dementia affects one in five people over 80 and one in 20 people over 65
How might this impact on you in the future?
Over 500,000 elderly people in the UK are in residential care homes. The average residential care home costs £400 to £500 per week (more if nursing is required) but to receive care on the NHS, medical or social need must first be assessed by the NHS trust. If the medical need is not sufficient to warrant NHS funding, the case is passed to social services for means testing. In an individual has assets over £21,000 (including their home), they must meet all the costs for care themselves.
As a result, only five per cent to six per cent of care home residents receive full funding. What other sources of income exist for retired people going into care?
- State pension: Men over 65 and women over 60 receive a weekly state pension, introduced in 1946 under the National Insurance Act
- Other state benefits: Housing costs are paid to those pensioners with no savings, free TV licences are available for over-75s, and a Winter Fuel Payment is provided to the elderly to help with heating bills
- Personal pension: There are various types, but in general, a company contributes to a personal pension for the length of time that an individual works for them. They receive the pension as an annual payment after retirement
- Continued employment: Many elderly people continue to work into their 70s and 80s.
- Other investments: Many older people own their own houses and can therefore borrow money from banks. The banks reclaim their money upon the owner's death and the sale of the house. This is known as Equity Release
- Family support: Children may provide financial support for their parents. An estimated 70,000 homes are sold by families each year to pay for a relative's care home costs
With the increase in life expectancy, children today are increasingly likely to provide financial support and even care for their parents.
Why is dementia on the increase and what are the problems associated with this?
Then watch this video clip showing a dementia sufferer's relative speaking about the condition.
Preparing for caring
One in three people will end their lives with a form of dementia. That means that one third of your class will suffer at some stage. It also means that there is a very high risk of one or more of your parents developing dementia, especially as science allows people to survive physical ailments such as heart disease, strokes and some forms of cancer that might have killed them at an earlier age.
Read the fact sheet on dementia and look at the figures. Discuss who should ‘foot' the bill for escalating care costs - NHS or family.
What will it be like to look after your parents, rather than the other way round?
In groups using the news article from the starter activity, write on an A3 sheet of paper your thoughts about who should care for elderly people in the future. Use the six hats theory to separate your ideas. Use the information you have gathered to answer the following question - ‘ Who should care for Granny?'. Explain why you've reached that decision and describe any alternative solutions that you have. You might like to use the writing frame.
The cost of care
What many young people may not know is how quickly a life-time's savings can be spent on care fees. Investigate:
- The geography of the ‘postcode lottery' (why does care cost more in some counties and cities than in others? How does our locality compare with other places?)
- The typical cost of care (and estimate how quickly, say, the proceeds from a £250K house sale would be spent). Have a look at the information mat about retirement income to help you
- The rules about care costs (who pays? What will the government give?)
Write down either:
- Three things that you have learnt during the lesson
- Two things that shocked/surprised you about the lesson
- One question that you still have
A few volunteers should share their thoughts with the group.