A New Look at Care for the Elderly

How to look after people who become too old to look after themselves continues to be a hot subject in the U.K. The latest bright idea I have come across is the brainchild of the scientist and inventor Heinz Wolff. ‘Comfort care is an essential component of an acceptable quality of life’ he says. However balanced against that proposition, there is the worry about what will happen to us when we get old. ‘We need to put these two propositions together and get people to do things when they are younger and fitter, in order to ensure that they have an unbreakable entitlement for care when they get older’.

So his ambitious scheme is a development of the time-bank concept. In essence, friends and neighbours would call in to help older local residents with personal or ’comfort’ care tasks, and that contribution would be formally logged as to what he calls a ‘care credit’. The care-giver would be able to draw on their credits but only when they too become old and need support.

He concedes that it would mean a change in the culture of the nation. There are all sorts of potential problems if it was ever implemented, for example what would happen to people who decided to opt out of the scheme. Who would look after them? He admits there will also be people for whom the whole idea is unappealing, like busy bankers earning £3M a year. They might say ‘do you really think we are going to spend four hours a day wiping people’s bottoms? They would want to buy care.

Wolff wants to get together a group of experts and enthusiasts to draw up ground rules for the scheme. He already has ‘about twenty interested parties’ including well known national charities. He foresees the study would take two years during which he would aim to find a community of perhaps 10,000 people where the idea could be ‘road-tested’. It would need to be a relatively stable population so that there wasn’t too much movement in and out of the area.

Whilst admitting that he is an idealist at heart, he sees the vision as a return to how people in villages used to live. “It wasn’t just the Vicar’s wife who took soup to the sick, but people would naturally pop round to the neighbour and say : ‘I haven’t seen you in the garden, is there something wrong?’ or would nurse them through some illness – then we would actually become better people”. At 82 himself he needs to move fast if the scheme gets beyond the thinking stage! He IS a visionary, for he adds that there would actually be a degree of ‘salvation’ in all this.

Despite all the potential snags, which I see as insurmountable on any large scale, at the very least Wolff has moved the debate to where people are – not to where our Coalition government with its mania for debt- cutting, would like them to be.