Support services help maintain independence

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 02 September 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:528
  1. Rebecca Coombes
  1. London

    New research commissioned by the UK government indicates that service providers could do more to help older people maintain their independence at times of crisis, such as hospital discharge.

    Independent Living in Later Life, prepared for the Department for Work and Pensions by the Policy Studies Institute, found that a well managed package of support services helped pensioners to stay at home in times of difficulty.

    The report said that there needed to be clear and early identification of the triggers that indicate a person might benefit from extra support—for example, during bereavement. When a pensioner contacts one support agency this should jump start access to a range of services, said researchers.

    An example of this approach was the “hospital from home service,” primarily provided by Age Concern, although other voluntary organisations offer similar arrangements. Under the scheme, local volunteers act as buddies to pensioners recovering from hospital treatment at home. The volunteers, mostly pensioners themselves, often accompanied patients home from hospital and provided practical help around the house, such as preparing light meals and washing up, buying groceries, and dealing with bills.

    Jane Parry, a coauthor of the report from the Policy Studies Institute, said the service helped keep patients out of residential homes—something that many older people dreaded.

    “Hospital stays are a vulnerable time for older people, especially if unexpected. On leaving hospital, patients are sometimes relatively unsupported. The patients helped by the hospital from home service are often living alone with no local support network. It allows them to stay in their own home and be independent,” she said.


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