How to ease the care crisis; let granny have a wii (because online octogenarians are very big society)

A suggestion of boiled cabbage, laced with a faint, medicinal whiff. Magnolia-coloured walls lined with chairs turned towards a television set. And staring at the screen is a sea of blank, wizened faces attached to bodies waiting to die; ah the great British care home.

Just think, if the old dears are lucky, someone might even switch on the telly.

Unless, that is, this is the sort of care home that runs adult learning programmes for the elderly (check out the You Tube film) organised by social enterprise Learning for the Fourth Age (l4a).

At the Aigburth care home in Leicestershire, for example, here is an OAP enthusiastically playing tennis on the Wii, egged on by fellow residents, there is a 90-year-old emailing her great-grandson and everywhere is an attitude that sticks two fingers up at the stereotypical view of old people: “When you get to your 90s you feel you want to keep up with things.. it makes you feel you’re up with the world.”

Now I’m not usually one for Oprah-style outbursts, but even I found it difficult to watch the clip without smashing the air with a ‘You go girl!’ as the web-savyy pensioner tapped out her email.

As well as getting residents online, the care homes involved in l4a schemes run music, foreign language, flower-arranging and art sessions – basically any form of learning that people take an interest in. Because sessions are staffed by volunteers and local young people, the byproduct is community cohesion and intergenerational contact.

The experience of care home residents such as those in Leicester isn’t just a nice story. It could be another piece of the jigsaw when it comes to the crisis in care for the elderly.

Life expectancy is rising and by 2026, the number of people aged 85 and over will double and the number of people aged 100 and over will quadruple. In some 20 years’ time, around 1.7 million more adults will need some sort of care or support. Just last week the global dementia bill was said to be £388bn, according to the World Alzheimers Report. While I’m certainly not suggesting that getting ocotgenarians online will solve the crisis in care or provide the answer to one of modern society’s most pressing health problems, but surely anything that improves quality of life and cuts down healthcare bills is worth exploring further?

Programmes such as those in Leicester, says NIACE (the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education) transforms people. They are more interactive with each other, with the staff and with their families and are on fewer sleeping pills and anti-depressants; a reduction of 50% at one home that’s running adult learning scheme programmes.

Staff also reap rewards. As well as the fact residents are more motivated, they interact with them on a friend rather than carer-patient level. Anecdotally, absenteeism is rare and turnover low.

On the business side, money is saved because there’s less reliance on sleeping pills and anti-depressants – imagine the savings if this was replicated in every care setting in the country.

Politicians and policymakers take note; public finances are in a parlous state but if your granny has a wii, you might have to spend fewer pennies.

* Age UK recently launched a digital manifesto for older people with the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, the digital media institution. It demands an end to digital illiteracy among the elderly by 2020. The manifesto argues that because the Internet is the public’s primary source of information, being able to surf, blog, or take part in community TV broadcasts not only empowers people but helps breaks the isolation that older people often experience.

Despite the fact that more pensioners have Internet access at home than ever before – almost 40% now compared to 11% 10 years ago – campaigners say it’s vital that older people are not left behind.

FACT says the issue is one of social justice that as it promotes localism and active citizenship.

Sounds like big society to me.

4 thoughts on “How to ease the care crisis; let granny have a wii (because online octogenarians are very big society)”

  1. What a great uplifting story. I briefly worked in a residential home for the elderly in 1990 and no one had internet access then. But I recoiled in horror from the “day room” and its permanently-on TV. Bring on the Wii!

  2. Thanks for the blog and the positive comments about the work that we do here at L4A.

    I agree with you completely about the medication savings. Another amazing statistic is that if incontinence materials are reduced by 75% when residents are engaged in meaningful activity, this could save £70.4 million per year from the budgets. We spend too long dealing with symptoms when older people are in care, rather than treating causes – depression, loneliness, futility.

    The Wii is great because all the residents work interactively and cooperatively at it. My concern is that we will see its success and once again adopt a ‘one size fits all’ attitude towards activities and learning in care settings by providing more Wiis for older people, stating the number of people who live in Wii-ed up care homes and calling them ‘learners’. L4A actually spends time individually with each resident to find out about them, their interests and what they would like to learn. We then work with them one-to-one every week, as shown in the video. This individualised approach is key to the success of the model, more so than a Wii could ever be.

    The volunteers are fantastic but they are also very well supported and we work hard to treat them as individuals and provide ongoing training to them as well, including initial teacher training earlier this year. Volunteer management ought to be professionalised. Yes big society, but L4A could not run for free, which we fear is the coded message behind ‘big society’ – do more with less or, worse, nothing.

    In general, however, this is a great news story and we have now replicated the model so that residents in Sheffield and in Leeds are receiving services. We hope to be able to expand further and to keep on creating the same impact elsewhere.

    Thanks again

    1. Thanks Melissa for your contribution; I like L4A’s work. Your words that ‘big society’ is carte blanche to “do more with less or, worse, nothing” are certainly ones I agree with. Big society could easily become a smokescreen that allows services to be run down under the illusion that ‘the community’ will take responsibility.

      L4A, as the blogpost makes clear, spends a lot of time working with older people on a range of activities and I certainly hope people take the time to watch the short video to find out more. While I wouldn’t advocate the mass dispersal of Wiis to the elderly as some sort of panacea, the experience of the care home I feature in the blogpost shows what can be achieved if technology is more accessible for those who are interested in it. Other providers should take note.

  3. There is a link uniting Budget cuts which IMPROVE quality of life and health, and all the following groups; Old people and Disabled people with care assistance needs; Neglected children and Housing benefit claimants: Unemployed; Uneducated; Untrained; Unoccupied people over 16.

    Care : There is a clear conflict of interest in allowing the purse holder to be the ‘assessor of needs’ or the provider. There is also postcode lottery. There is also a Human Rights breaching barrier to free movement, if different geographical authorities have squabbles or different standards. The solution would be the care needs equivalent of the national M.O.T I.L.F. could supervise the scheme, aided by organisations of disabled and elderly people. The assessment of ‘x’ hours’ worth of need would lead to a grant of funds at least to minimum wage level, which would ideally be added to the individual’s nationally paid income, with resulting direct control and improvement in standards . That would remove entire empires of costly public servants using the available funds, so it would be far cheaper as well as giving better standards

    Accommodation : What was wrong for the Apartheid regime is still wrong when carried out by Britain’s public service regime. Segregation and ghettos and isolation, solitary confinement or wrongfully trapping disabled or older people in unsuitable housing, or ‘special’ housing or ‘care homes’ or hospital wards. or by having ‘special’ and lower budgets for older adults’ care. Integration within the community of small mixed housing groups would remove the inevitability of mistreatment which can only happen when vulnerable people of all ages are out of sight. It is not only better, but cheaper, to have the best gadgets, purpose built inclusive housing, and paid assistance within a caring neighbour mixed setting. Mixed age shared housing groups form a substitute supportive family and friendship group. It is popular overseas.

    Housing Benefit and Child Payments: Any taxpayer incentives are perverse, when they induce feckless production of unwanted babies by giving rewards of income and extra bedrooms’ worth of housing benefit. Stopping all child benefits and extra housing benefit bedroom payments per infant would result in responsible parents who have used planning and forethought and children who are wanted and cherished. It would reduce the future costs as well the short term ones. It would also give life on the planet a hope of survival, by reducing the human population explosion

    Students and Unemployed: The motivated student is the one who has made a well informed choice, of correspondence course, part time or sandwich course, or intensive short course. Knowing exactly what he wants, and why, he will fund his fees as he goes along, by part time work and by saving up in advance. He is unlikely to drop out, or to slack off, or to disrupt his fellows, or to spend his time drinking He will demand a greatly improved standard of teaching delivered in a technologically updated and probably modular form in bite sized chunks. That will make training and education a lifelong reality, for old people and disabled people and for people changing occupation. The individual and society will gain from trainees who study and train because they are motivated to spend their own time and money to achieve their own goals. Nobody gains by colluding with purported overseas ‘students’ who are dodging immigration rules, nor by enabling infantalised over 16 year-olds who are dodging or delaying contributing their paid or voluntary work, while living as parasites on their elders, and on those of their peers who are already working and paying tax.

    Citizens Workforce: Keeping capable adults in enforced or thoughtless idleness, isolated, useless, alone, or involved in mischief, is not good for them, or for society There are physical and emotional rewards of social interaction with an agreed satisfactory aim Blending offenders, military personnel withdrawn from overseas, existing Red Cross and Women’s Institute and Charity volunteers, according to their own wishes, could allow the finest form of work experience and training, which has been shown to be the old fashioned “sitting by Nellie” It would double the available effective workforce, raise the standard of self worth, the amount of valuable contributions to improving the lives of everyone, especially the most needy. For those between 16 and retirement, being denied any unearned income from the taxpayer would teach people work habits. It would repay society for any past offences. It would allow remedial and first time training. It would give people ‘taster’ trials of different employment It could astonish and stimulate people who have become unemployed, to discover an interest in something new..

    “Sitting by Nellie” is observing, ‘shadowing’ and assisting someone who already knows the job well. It can be an apprenticeship in itself, or merely a work experience ‘taster’ which shows the helper what the job entails, leading to a wish to take further training courses or apply for paid jobs, or a wish to try something else. The “Nellie” has the advantage of an unpaid assistant/trainee to give support at work. Where the current staff are overworked, they will be able to raise their standards, improve their job satisfaction and reduce their stress. Where jobs are being done badly, or not at all, the availability of a supply of fresh outsiders’ eyes, whistle-blowers and non-hardened volunteers will help expose and eliminate neglect and ill treatment of patients who need feeding, or disabled people who need help at home or companions to assist them to go out. With close one-to-one supervision, some unlikely people can have their lives transformed as givers of help, while transforming the lives of those who need helping.

    The most habituated anti-social non-workers will discover that ex-military supervision and the need to qualify for benefits by working can make them understand for the first time how to apply themselves to a task, and discover for the first time the satisfaction of clearing up litter instead of leaving it. The Army can teach ‘drop outs’ and offenders multiple skills, teamwork and literacy when state schools have failed, and can improve physical fitness and well-being.

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