NEWS FEATURE: Looking after Huntingdonshire's ageing population

A plan is currently being drawn up on how to help the district s ageing population. CATHERINE BELL finds what problems the area is facing in the near future and what is being done to ensure Huntingdonshire can cope. THE number of homes available for Hunt

A plan is currently being drawn up on how to help the district's ageing population. CATHERINE BELL finds what problems the area is facing in the near future and what is being done to ensure Huntingdonshire can cope.

THE number of homes available for Huntingdonshire's elderly will have to increase almost tenfold in the next decade to cope with demand.

According to Ageing Well in Huntingdonshire, a joint report from Huntingdonshire District Council and NHS Cambridgeshire, the number of people aged over 65 living in the district is expected to rise to almost 37,000 by 2021, an increase of 59 per cent on the latest figures.

Currently, there is a shortage of "extra-care" accommodation (grouped housing for older people with a carer living on site) available in Huntingdonshire - there are just 49 units and the council wants to increase this to 419 by 2021.


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HDC and its partners are currently working on one site in Huntingdon, redeveloping the existing Brookside home, and have plans for a new scheme at the Loves Farm in St Neots.

Head of housing at HDC, Steve Plant, said: "There is a shortfall and that is why we are working on these two schemes."

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The two schemes will provide another 90 units - a long way off the target increase of 370.

Mr Plant said there was little more the council could do to provide the much-needed housing schemes and they had to wait for land to become available and for builders to develop it.

He said: "It's going to be a challenge, there's no doubt about that. Builders are not going to build unless the market is there."

The report, which is currently out for consultation, highlights a number of significant issues that must be overcome in the next 12 years. One of the biggest problems will simply be the increase in the number of elderly people living in the district.

The number of people aged between 15 and 64 will drop as a percentage of the district's population, meaning fewer people to care for the elderly and fewer taxpayers to foot the bill.

Then there is the expected increase in the number of people suffering some form of frailty - for example incidences of dementia are expected to rise by 62 per cent.

Between 2006 and 2021, the number of physically frail older people is projected to rise by 53 per cent. Those with "cognitive" frailty will increase by 64 per cent.

INFORMATION: Members of the public have until October 23 to comment on the report.

Read the report at www.huntsdc.gov.uk

HUNTS STATS

The 65-plus age group is expected to increase by 13,700 (59 per cent) between 2007 and 2021

The areas with the highest 65-plus population are Huntingdon East, Ramsey, Hemingfords and St Ives South, all with 1,300 or more pensioners. By 2021, this figure will increase to more than 2,000

Life expectancy in Huntingdonshire is 79.3 years for men and 82.6 years for women. The UK figures are 77.2 years and 81.5 years

HOUSING

A REVIEW of sheltered accommodation in Cambridgeshire four years ago highlighted the need for a strategic shift from residential care, where people live in a home and receive round-the-clock help with personal care, to extra care, grouped housing for older people with a carer living on site.

Huntingdonshire District Council is currently working with its housing association partners on schemes in Huntingdon and St Neots to increase capacity for extra care.

However, Ageing Well in Huntingdonshire states there is work to be done with the current sheltered accommodation - it says 20 out of 28 "do not meet current modern standards" and that HDC is keen to improve these.

However, it is also noted that the current economic downturn "challenges" these ambitions.

There are also plans which aim to help people live in their own homes for longer, taking into account that more than 70 per cent of the elderly are owner-occupiers.

Pensioners will also be offered community alarms and a new "handyperson" scheme.

Chan Abraham, group chief executive of social landlord, Luminus, which works with HDC to provide sheltered accommodation, said: "We are putting plans in place to ensure that our sheltered accommodation meets the needs and aspirations of older people, both now and in the future. In addition, we will work with a range of partners to identify opportunities to build extra-care sheltered accommodation."

HEALTH

PEOPLE, generally, are living longer and getting frailer.

Across Cambridgeshire, the number of physically frail older people is predicted to rise 53 per cent by 2021.

Frailty is broken down into three categories: physical, cognitive and combined.

Physical frailty is projected to rise 59 per cent between 2006 and 2021, cognitive frailty will increase 64 per cent, and sufferers of combined problems will increase 61 per cent.

In 2006 estimates suggested that there were 6,600 older people suffering from dementia in Cambridgeshire. In Huntingdonshire, the number is expected to increase 62 per cent by 2021.

Dr Liz Robin, director of public health at NHS Cambridgeshire, said: "Further development of appropriate services close to home for older people is a key part of the NHS Cambridgeshire Strategy, which has recently been the subject of widespread public consultation.

"NHS Cambridgeshire will work closely with county council adult services, district councils and the voluntary sector to redesign services to meet the needs of older people, within available resources. Preventive work which enables older people to maintain their independence for as long as possible will be an important part of this work."

POVERTY

WHEN compared to the national average, Huntingdonshire residents claim one-third less Attendance Allowance (AA) and HDC wants more people to take advantage of the benefit.

AA is a payment made in the UK to people who are over 65 who have long-term health problems that present a care or supervisory need. It is not means-tested and therefore is an indicator of the health and well-being of the over-65 population.

In Huntingdonshire, take-up is just 15 per cent. However, it is not known if this indicates good health in the district or masks a problem with benefit take-up.

Another problem area is fuel poverty - more than 13,000 households in Cambridgeshire are in fuel poverty. Two areas in Huntingdonshire are in the worst 10 per cent in England and older people are more likely to be affected.

Andrew Harrop, head of policy at Age Concern and Help the Aged (which are now merged) said: "The Government must commit to a comprehensive strategy to combat pensioner poverty similar to the manifesto commitment on eradicating child poverty.

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