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Royal Voluntary Service blog
Find out about the people behind Royal Voluntary Service in our series of guest stories from our volunteers, staff and partners.

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Shaping Our Age will shape our thinking for years to come

This blog appears as the foreword to Involving Older Age: The route to twenty-first century well-being, the final report of Shaping our Age, a three year project involving older people to challenge the common perceptions of ageing and question the portrayal of older people and the assumptions that those providing services for them often make.

Sometimes in our working lives we’re lucky to see something that is simple and yet profound. I’ve been privileged to join the Royal Voluntary Service (nee WRVS) a little while after the Shaping our Age project began and have watched the initial findings turned into reality in the local projects.

I use the word profound carefully because while this project hasn’t been about investing in shiny new things or making technology the answer to all our challenges, it has thankfully been about new ways of doing familiar things – with remarkable results.

The project has taught us to listen carefully to older people when they tell us what they want from their lives, to work with them to help create the right results and, although this shouldn’t be a surprise, it has allowed us to experience the enormous difference that results from being involved in shaping your own world.

One of the most resonant things I’ve heard in my time at the Royal Voluntary Service was from someone involved in Shaping our Age who simply told me: “young man, I’ve spent too much time with people telling me what I need rather than listening to what I want”.

Surely getting older shouldn’t mean that people with a lifetime’s experience of building homes and families; of raising and educating children; of working in and for their communities are by virtue of their age less able to express what they want, to make choices and to continue to make a real contribution to society?

This is exciting and innovative research but most importantly it’s a catalogue of wonderful rich human stories that lie at the heart of Shaping our Age. I know that the findings in this report will shape the thinking of our organisation for many years to come; I hope you will read it and feel that way too.

My sincere thanks to all those who have contributed, funded and guided Shaping our Age, but my biggest thanks goes to those who have stopped to listen carefully and acted on what they have heard.

Posted by David McCullough, chief executive of WRVS at 00:00 Wednesday, 26 June 2013.

Falls Awareness week: can we do more not just in the home but in hospital too?

This week is Falls Awareness Week. We know from official sources that falls affect a third of those aged 65 years and over, rising to over 40% in those aged 80 years and above.

Falls and fractures in older people are a costly and often preventable health concern. We must take steps to tackle this growing problem. If we do not take appropriate action now to improve the prevention and treatment of falls and fractures, the number of people affected by broken bones will rise steeply in just a few years due to demographic changes. Falling is the leading cause of injury-related admissions to hospital in those over 65, and costs the NHS an estimated £2.3 billion per year. The cost of treating and caring for hip fractures in the UK could top £6 billion by 2036.

The Royal Voluntary Service undertook its own research last autumn. It found that that nearly a quarter of over 75s had suffered a fall in Britain in the last year, often with devastating psychological consequences. Falls present a significant cost to the individual; the consequences can range from physical injury, loss of confidence, loss of independence and quality of life and, occasionally, death. Indeed, over a fifth of older people who have had a fall in the last five years say they have lost their confidence and a high number of over 75s, 225,000, won’t leave the house by themselves. In our report we made a number of recommendations around raising awareness and providing advice in preventing falls and ensuring that older people get the help that they need once a fall has occurred so that they can regain their confidence and independence.

Read the Falls: measuring the impact on older people report

But it’s not just at home and in the community that falls occur. Last week the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) called on the NHS to reduce the number of older patients who are falling over in hospitals. It revealed that nearly 209,000 falls were reported in hospitals in England between 1 October 2011 and 30 September 2012. While the vast majority of these people experienced no or low harm, 90 patients died because of their falls. Around 900 patients experienced severe harm, such as hip fractures and head injuries. Many more will have lost confidence and will be fearful of falling again that will take time to recover from.

But help is at hand. The Royal Voluntary Service is present in many hospitals and does provide on ward support in some circumstances. Volunteers, quite rightly, will not get involved in care regulated activities. However, volunteers assisting in getting patients to move around more – and accompanying them whilst they do so – is one of the roles that they can fulfill. Where a patient might be reluctant to move around because of the fear of slips, trips and falls then our volunteers accompanying them can help to alleviate that fear and means that, for example, dementia patients can walk to a dining table where they are more likely to eat than if they are in bed.

It’s a little thing but those little things can make all the difference.

Posted by Steve Smith Public Affairs Manager (England) at 00:00 Wednesday, 19 June 2013.

Ageing and the Social Services Bill - Wales

In early June, I attended an excellent seminar hosted by the good people at Policy Forum for Wales regarding the Social Services & Wellbeing (Wales) Bill, which is currently making its way through the legislative process.

During the discussion on growing older in Wales, several speakers – including Mike Hedges AM, as well as representatives of ADSS Cymru and the WLGA – talked about why we need ‘integrated services’ in order to meet older people’s needs. They argued that if we are to make Wales a great place to grow old, we need to adjust not simply our social care system, but a whole plethora of other services which affect our wellbeing.

I could not agree more with this sentiment – and I wanted to set out three examples of ‘non-social’ services which are valued by older people, and question where these fit within current narratives around the Social Services & Wellbeing Bill.

Firstly, take three short examples of wider services which contribute towards older people’s wellbeing:

Yet despite a clear consensus that we need to look more holistically at ageing, it is an inescapable fact that issues around ageing are still being placed in the ‘health and social care’ box. Indeed, the Policy Forum Wales seminar explored so many issues around ageing precisely because they are being tackled through a Social Services Bill – and most of the delegates who attended were from social services departments, the Welsh Government departments to which they are answerable, or the voluntary sector who provide so many of the services they commission. Where were the town planners, the heads of bus and rail companies or the directors of leisure facilities, all of whom play every bit as important a part in creating an age-friendly society?

There is no doubting that we can only improve lives for older people by making sure older people’s issues break out of the social care straitjacket. People in social care understand that – but do the people running the other services?

Posted by Dr Ed Bridges, Public Affairs Manager (Wales) at 00:00 Thursday, 13 June 2013.

Hearing Screening for Life: the campaign is launched

Action on Hearing Loss estimates that hearing loss affects over 10 million people in the UK. That’s an astounding 1 in 6 of the overall population, but a much larger proportion of the older population. Some 60% of over 75s have a substantial hearing impairment. With an ever increasing ageing population, hearing loss and the difficulties that this brings will rapidly increase.

Most of us take our ability to hear for granted. Unlike failing eyesight it is not so easy for the individual to diagnose and take steps to manage. We now recognise that undiagnosed hearing loss can cause difficulties for people interacting with their family and friends, and can lead to social isolation, loneliness and depression. Furthermore it reduces the ability of the individual to access services including healthcare and can exacerbate or lead to other medical problems.

But this isn’t just a moral argument. It makes economic sense too. The estimated costs of screening 65 year olds, and providing interventions is £255 million over 10 years. But this is dwarfed by the benefits accrued over the same period taking into account personal, employment and healthcare factors which amount to in excess of £2 billion. At times when public spending is under pressure hearing screening makes economic sense.

The Royal Voluntary Service is proud to be part of a wide alliance of organisations that represent a broad range of interests. This is not a narrow interest issue, but one which impacts across many health and wellbeing boundaries.

In supporting the call Stephen Lloyd MP for Hearing Screening for those of 65 years of age, David McCullough, Royal Voluntary Service chief executive, said: “The ability to hear properly and communicate with family and friends and to take part in social activities is critical in ensuring that older people can stay connected within their communities. Hearing loss can, therefore, have a hugely detrimental impact on an older person’s quality of life and we also know that isolation and loneliness can seriously damage older people’s physical and mental health. That is why the Royal Voluntary Service supports the campaign led by Stephen Lloyd MP for age onset hearing loss screening for those aged 65 and above. Far too many older people suffer from hearing loss but carry on without the advice and support that they need to live life to the full. We need to ensure that the availability of hearing screening is much more widespread and easier to access.”

Yesterday’s launch of the Hearing Screening for Life is just the beginning and not the end of the campaign. The next stage is to see Government agreement to the introduction of a pilot screening programme.

Posted by Steve Smith Public Affairs Manager (England) at 00:00 Friday, 07 June 2013.