Will you still need me, Will you still feed me When I'm 64?

The words of the Beatles' song of the 60's are a reality for many people in today's society but it isn't 64 - it is more like 84. However it isn't the feeding that is the problem; it is the "who will need me" that is.

Society has changed dramatically in New Zealand. The pace of life is so fast, everyone is busy doing their own thing. There are many options available to people now that there isn't the time, or the inclination for many, to help their neighbour. In fact, many people do not even know their neighbour apart from the cursory "hello" or wave. People are out working or playing. Money is not so much an object, if you don't have it you can get it on credit. The need for self gratification is so ingrained in society, helping others is well down the list of priorities.

On top of this there have been many changes in the health system. In the need to balance the books, social services are not what they used to be. Community Social Workers who used to develop relationships with people in the community do not exist like they used to. Hospitals do not employ the number of people to meet the social needs of people other than assessing them for services, filling out the required forms and then moving on to the next person. The follow up of the person's social needs often doesn't happen. This is not the fault of the social workers or needs assessors as many are called now. They just do not have the time. Their case loads are huge and quite frankly many are just plain burnt out. With the constant change that has gone on in the health system over the last 10-15 years who can blame them - it has been pretty demoralising.

While all of this is a reality just where does it leave the older person living on their own?

Not only do neighbours not talk to or get involved with each others as in the past, people shift from the smaller home to the bigger home to the smaller home, moving from suburb to suburb within a city or even to other cities or countries. We are a transient society. Gone are the days when people stay in the one house for 50 years. The average time people live in a house in New Zealand is around 7 years now.

In the 21 st century society is facing the biggest disease yet to hit humanity. It is social isolation. People are social animals who need the interactions of other people to keep alive and well. If we do not have social interaction or the ability to keep our mind and body active, people sit and dwell on their aches and pains, the losses in life. These are the things that a fit, active and happy person doesn't take any notice of. Older people were not brought up to ask for what they wanted or to think of themselves. This was considered to be selfish - the stoic person had to soldier on. This sense of loneliness and powerlessness leads on to sickness. All of which are real, but most of them could be reduced or healed if there was someone in their life that cared. It is no myth that when many people enter residential care i.e. rest home their health improves. Only a small part of this is due to the food and medical care. Most of it comes from the social interaction, someone to talk to, something to do.

There are many people in our community who have no family, family live overseas or in an other town, estranged from their family or their family is just too busy to find the time to spend with them or see what their needs are. It is just the way society has evolved. Good or bad, this is what we have but none of this makes it easy for the older person living on their own.

Who needs them, feeds them when they are 84? Older people are at the bottom of the heap. Much money is poured into mental health. Society gets up in arms if someone who is mentally ill harms someone in our community. No-one jumps up and down and makes a fuss if an older person has no support. An older people is often voiceless; not heard, afraid to speak out, embarrassed to ask for help so who is their voice if they have no one?

Care Advisory Services is a new service that will do this. It is not a home care organisation. It is set up to look after the social needs of people who have no one to do it for them. It is like a surrogate daughter or son. They offer a person visits and outings, phone contact, take the person on holiday, be their voice if they cannot speak up for themselves, ask the questions of the medical practitioner that need to be answers, be the social support for whatever is needed in sickness, benefits, accommodation - in fact whatever they wants or needs.

Referrals can come from the individual, social service or a relative - in fact, anyone can refer a person to this service. There is no criteria. A person does not have to be sick to use it, in fact, it is hoped that people will use this service while they are well so that a case worker will get to know their needs and wants or desires before they get sick. While it does operate for those in an emergency or high need situation, the high need situation can often be avoided if heir is someone who cares about a person and what is happening in their life, who visits regularly, takes a person out of the house and helps involve them in some activities that are meaningful to the person. There are no rules or boundaries with this service.

If you want to find out more about this service, call 098344825 or email leigh@careadvisoryservices.co.nz or visit www.careadvisoryservices.co.nz

How can this article help you assist your clients?

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