We need to face the fact that we are in an ageing population. Birth rates are declining, more families are having less children and our elderly are living for longer. But are we prepared for this? Can our infrastructure and society deal with what is steadily happening?

Population Growth

It is projected that the UK population will continue to grow and reach over 74 million by 2039. 18% of the population is aged 65 and over and 2.4% are aged 85 and over. Similarly, in Japan the population is ageing rapidly, so much so that the overall population is shrinking due to low fertility rates. With populations growing older, some of the main questions are where and who is going to look after some of the most vulnerable people in our society. 

Care homes in the UK are already adapting to the world that is rapidly changing around them. Many care providers are now using technology to help give and present some of the best person-centred care around. Some people see the future as a chance to help people stay in their own homes for longer – aided by designs aimed at making their lives as easy as possible. This is also a major hope for the government, they want to free up beds within the NHS and keep people in the comfort of their own homes. 

Not only will private homes need to be adapted but our care homes will need dramatic changes. As our population ages, the needs of our elderly also grow, and the issues they are facing become more complex. Housing designs are being shown to feature seamless, open plan living areas to make it easy to move around, well-being and fitness are shown to be key with keeping people fit and healthy. Digitisation of the care industry is fundamental to our care future. Plans are already in place for a ‘dementia village’, modelled on Hogeweyks’ village. The residents can live life as normal, go shopping and to restaurants but also be in a completely safe environment with round the clock care if needed. The village can also help to fight off the loneliness that comes from living on your own with the disease.

Starting the technology journey

Starting out slowly is a good start. Many homes are just starting to embrace the technological advances available to them. Wi-Fi in homes, electronic care plans and computer classes are allowing care to be person-centred and to let residents have regular contact with their families via skype. Technology now also enables care homes to intelligently monitor residents with infra-red and wearable technology, they can immediately alert staff, family members and even the emergency services in the event of an accident or fall, all helping people to stay out of hospitals where they may be open to further infections.

Another big selling point for adopting technology within the care sector is it can help attract new members of the team to vacancies. Knowing that technology is there to help them with their day to day tasks is a huge confidence boost. Many domiciliary care providers also provide hardware that the carers can use as personal devices outside of work. To read more on how technology can help bring in the best click here.

Funding our future

Another big discussion that has been bubbling in the background is how we are going to pay for social care. The so called ‘dementia tax’ which looks at people’s wealth when entitling them to free social care and questioning who will pay and how is a major concern. Similar discussions were held with previous governments who planned to take some of the deceased persons estates to help finance a national care service, this was dubbed the ‘death tax’. Many believe the only way to help fund our growing social care future is to completely re-structure the system. New revenue streams will be needed.

Who will provide the care?

By 2040 it is predicted that one in seven people will be aged 70 or over. To successfully meet the demands our health and social care systems need to change and be adapted. Not only that but we need to start meeting the needs of unpaid carers. It is now estimated that unpaid carers make up one in ten of the population. Caring for family members and friends can be physically and mentally challenging. Suitable, affordable housing can significantly improve life in older age, not only that but having suitable, adaptable homes available will save the NHS an estimated £2.5 billion per year. This money is currently being spent every year on injuries from hazards caused by poor housing. We have previously looked deeper in to Care homes of the future here.

Technology has the opportunity to absolutely change the way care is delivered. Home-based monitoring, smart use of data and physical adaptations can all help push the changes forward. Before this happens, we need to make sure that peoples concerns around data protection are dealt with, connectivity is steadily available, and people are confident in using the technology. 

What will our future look like?

Health and social care are key areas where the population ageing, and life-expectancy interact. Homes that meet the needs of those over the age of 70 will be in higher demand than ever. Many older people fear the use of technology interfering and affecting their security and privacy. We need to overcome all these barriers to make sure we are readily prepared for our future. We need to make sure the infrastructure and the skills are in place to make sure we can support our ageing population. Without these we can only guess at how it will affect our NHS and our elderly’s well-being in the near future.

Megan Evans

Book-worm and culture-vulture.  Mum to 1 and better half to another. Always thinking about what meal is next.