Our ageing population: thinking differently about the type of care and support older people are given

The UK population is ageing rapidly. By 2040, nearly one in four people in the UK (24.2%) will be aged 65 or over and the number of people over 85 in the UK is predicted to more than double.1

Whilst people living longer is a cause for celebration, it also raises questions about how they are able to live well, and how we can effectively support the mental health of our ageing population.

Older people are particularly vulnerable to developing mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, due to challenges which become particularly prevalent in later life such as bereavement, physical disability, illness and, increasingly, loneliness.

"More than two million people in England over the age of 75 live alone, and more than a million older people say they often go for more than a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member."2

Feelings of loneliness and social isolation can have detrimental effects upon an individual’s health and wellbeing and as this population group grows, there are clear implications for the number of people at risk of developing mental health problems and the impact on health and social care services.

To help combat social isolation and loneliness, we need:

  • To think differently about the type of care and support that older people are given. 
  • There should be greater investment in local projects, including as part of extra-care housing, that aim to improve mental health in later life through supporting emotional and social connections with family, the community and people who are providing care and support services.

The Standing Together Project

The project aims to improve the emotional health and community connections of older people living in supported housing, as well as to reduce loneliness and isolation. Since late summer 2015, project staff have been facilitating weekly self-help groups for periods of six months, in retirement and extra-care housing settings. 

The Standing Together Toolkit

Thursday 20th September sees the publication of the Standing Together Toolkit, a resource available on the Mental Health Foundation’s website. Later life housing providers can use this independently to run groups, as well as drawing on the Mental Health Foundation’s expertise.

Local authorities role

Local authorities also have an important role in supporting people’s mental health.  Extra-care housing, sometimes known as assisted living, is for older people with care and support needs who want to be active and independent. Extra-care packages are typically commissioned by local authorities and provide much-needed local investment in mental health support.

Currently some extra-care housing contracts include funding for an hour per week of non-care time per person for providing other activities such as Standing Together groups, or additional provision to meet other support needs. However, many contracts do not include additional funding, and focus only on individuals’ physical care needs. This can result in residents becoming socially isolated and at high-risk of developing mental health problems.

The Mental Health Foundation would like local authorities:

  • to ensure that all extra-care contracts include funding for initiatives which enable older people to link up with their local community and reduce their social isolation.
  • Investment targeted at local community-based projects represents a welcome step towards developing the necessary support networks for the increasing number of people in this age group,
  • and will not only enhance the quality of their lives, but ultimately also help us to prevent many mental health problems from developing in the future. 
On Thursday, 20th September the Mental Health Foundation and our partners Notting Hill Genesis and Hanover Housing will launch the Standing Together Toolkit. The Toolkit is a product that uses peer support to improve social connection and mental health among residents of later life housing schemes. It builds on the success of the Big Lottery funded Standing Together Project 

[1] National population projections for the UK, 2014-based, Office for National Statistics, 2015

[2] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/loneliness-in-ol...

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