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Most of us want to live independently in our own homes for as long as possible. As we get older, we may need support and assistance to enable us to do so.
This can take the form of personal care, making our home more suitable for our needs or financial assistance from benefits or elsewhere.
Help you might be able to get includes:
As an older person you will almost certainly be entitled to an assessment to establish what your needs are and suggest how those needs can be taken care of.
Each local authority sets eligibility criteria, which are rules identifying the services they will provide for different levels of need. Even if you do not want your authority to arrange services for you, the assessment is useful as a way of identifying what services might benefit you.
Contact your local authority social services department and ask them to carry out an assessment of your needs. Their number should be in the phone book or call our Advice Service on 0808 808 7575 for further assistance.
Personal care means help with tasks like getting up and getting dressed, washing and bathing. Providers of this kind of care include social services, private care agencies and voluntary organisations.
Across Northern Ireland, agencies that provide personal care workers have to be registered with the regulatory body for care services and are regularly inspected to ensure that minimum standards are met. If you need personal care or assistance with your essential daily tasks, you may be eligible for Attendance Allowance or Disability Living Allowance.
Information on living independently and employing care workers is available from the National Centre for Independent Living website.
You may require help with housework, gardening, shopping, laundry and other day-to-day tasks. Many local authorities only offer limited assistance with these. Local voluntary organisations, including Age UK and Age Concern groups, may run services or you can employ someone privately.
Local authorities should provide meals at home to those who need them, either directly or through a voluntary organisation or private agency.
Some deliver hot meals, others provide frozen meals and a means of heating them. Any arrangement should take account of what you can manage: you should not be left with frozen meals if you will not be able to heat them up.
Your GP can give you information about local services. These might include home visits from the district nurse or health visitor, chiropody, continence advice and other services. Service levels are set locally so may vary from area to area.
For information on local health services and organisations visit Health & Social Care Services in Northern Ireland
Local voluntary organisations and charities operate in most areas. They may deliver services on behalf of the local authority but can be particularly useful in covering activities that your local authority does not provide. Examples include gardening and handyperson services, befriending schemes and social activities.
You may be helped by a family member or friend rather than a paid care worker. That person is a carer even if they do not realise it.
When looking at your needs, the local authority should not make assumptions about how much support your carer can provide. Nor should your carer feel pressured to do more than they can comfortably cope with.
Your carer is also entitled to ask for their own needs assessment. Carers can receive services to help them carry out their caring role. Often what carers find most valuable is the opportunity to have a break from their responsibilities, even for a short time (see below).
Financial support for carers is not generous. There is a benefit called Carers Allowance paid to carers who provide more than 35 hours’ care for a disabled person but the amount payable is low and any other income your carer has may affect their eligibility.
Carers can often benefit from sharing their experiences with other carers. There may be a group in your area where carers can support each other – Visit the Carers UK website or call them free on 0808 808 7777 for information about help available to carers.
‘My befriender comes in for a chat, a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit. It is the highlight of my week.’
You or your carer may need a break to recharge your batteries. Services provided to enable you to do this are known as respite care.
It might involve a short stay in a care home or other residential establishment. Even a break for a short time, such as an afternoon to go to the cinema or attend a social club, can make a big difference to the person concerned.
Ask your local authority for information about respite care, including how it is charged for.
The time may come when your current home is no longer suitable for you, even with care and support there. At this stage there are alternatives to moving into a care home. For some this may simply involve downsizing to a more manageable property.
Many older people consider moving in with their children or other relatives. This can work very well but it is important that everyone has a realistic understanding of what will be involved, particularly if you may need increasing levels of care in the future.
Sheltered housing is purpose built with the needs of older residents in mind. There are also increasing numbers of extra care sheltered housing developments, which offer a high level of support to residents while retaining a higher level of independence than in a traditional care home.
If you have a problem with a service provider, first try to resolve it through informal discussions with them. If this does not work ask about the complaints procedure. Complaints about standards of personal care can also be raised with the Care Quality Commission.
If the local authority has arranged your care, it retains responsibility for making sure that your care is suitable. Each local authority has to operate a complaints procedure and produce information about how to complain.
The NHS and local social security agencies also have to have complaints procedures - ask the office you are dealing with for details.
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