Thousands of blind and partially sighted older people are not receiving any social care support, becoming the latest casualties of the social care crisis, according to Charities Age UK and RNIB.
In the four financial years between 2008/2009 and 2012/2013, there was a 36.5% reduction in social care services to older people with visual impairment – of which approximately 12,415 blind or partially sighted older people (65 and over) missed out on receiving vital social care services to help with everyday basic essential daily living tasks, such as getting out of bed, getting washed and dressed and receiving help with eating.
The Charities warn that unmet care needs to older people with sight loss is likely to be even higher, as there are many older people who have care needs but do not receive any formal help and support, and therefore are not recorded in official data. Research suggests that 50% of registered blind and partially sighted older people are living alone, which increases the risk of them having unmet care needs.
The findings, revealed in Age UK and RNIB’s new report Improving Later Life for People with Sight Loss Sight, show that older people with sight loss have been disproportionately affected by the loss of community based services due to funding cuts. Although care and support services have declined for all adults with a physical disability, older people with sight loss have been especially badly affected. The Charities’ new report claims that this unmet need has had considerable consequences for the wider health and wellbeing of older blind and partially sighted people, and for their independence. It also paints a worrying picture for the future of this group.
Not receiving social care support has considerable consequences for older people who are blind or partially sighted and who need it. Compared with the general older population, older people with sight loss are more likely to have multiple health conditions, to be on a low income and to live in poor quality housing.
Older people with sight loss are also twice as likely to fall as their sighted peers and have a higher risk of injury. Every year, more than 2.3 million older people aged 65 and over have a fall and an estimated 87,790 falls each year are attributed to older people with sight loss. Almost 17% of these fall victims require hospital admission, resulting in higher costs to the NHS. Falls are not only costly to the individual; they are estimated to cost the NHS and social care system around £6 million per day – or £2.3bn a year.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK says: “That so many blind or partially sighted older people who need social care aren’t getting is profoundly shocking. Losing our sight is something many of us fear the most, and the idea of struggling alone without social care assistance in such circumstances seems appalling in a civilised society. “
“I wish I could say that the Spending Review outcome means the position is set to improve next year, but unfortunately too little money will be coming into social care, too late. Even at this late stage we hope the Government will think again.”
Fazilet Hadi, Director of Engagement at RNIB, said: “Social care support can be vital to blind and partially sighted people in later life, enabling them to live with dignity and choice. However, older people with sight loss are increasingly missing out on social care and vision rehabilitation services. Being left alone to cope with sight loss in later life is wholly unacceptable. No matter how tight government budgets are, this is essential support which must be provided.”
The current economic and policy environment offers little to those seeking to improve support for older people with sight loss. Further cuts across the wider public sector provision will continue to impact on services that blind and partially sighted older people reply on. Age UK and RNIB believe the new health and social care integration agenda presents a real opportunity to address these issues, but with budgets stretched, there is real risk that the full potential of integration may not be realised and the quality of life for blind and partially sighted older people will deteriorate.