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Report on Independent Living in Later Life

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The Department for Work and Pensions has published "Independent living in later life", Research Report 216, carried out for the Department by the Policy Studies Institute, available on the DWP website at http://www.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd5/rports2003-2004/rrep216.asp

The report presents the findings from a qualitative study designed to explore older people's concepts of independence. It also looks at how their service needs and their behaviour in approaching services impacts on their ability to live independently.

Older people's understandings of independence in later life encompassed a number of interrelated elements, reflecting their circumstances and changes in these over time, as well as individual values and preferences. Notions of autonomy and self-sufficiency underpinned interviewees' subjective perceptions of what it meant to be independent. The balance between an emphasis on 'doing what you want to do' and 'doing things for yourself' shifted to reflect older people's capabilities, social context and expectations.

Intersecting these priorities were a series of sub-components to independence. These included the importance older people attached to staying in their own homes, maintaining personal mobility and good health, and having sufficient income to live comfortably.

Three common transitions were studied through case studies: people moving into residential care and other forms of supported living; those coping with bereavement; and older people who had recently been discharged from hospital and who had returned to their homes.

A well-managed package of support played a vital role in helping pensioners maintain their sense of independence. Priority services felt to help maintain independence in later life included transport, health and home-based services. Interviewees often relied upon tried-and-tested support services, and preferred a single point of contact that could direct them to broader support services.

The research provided evidence that strong, well-managed support systems that complement pensioners' own priorities play an important role in maintaining independence in later life. These may consist of informal social support from partners, extended family and friends, or more formalised services from the statutory, voluntary and private sectors. The most important issue in terms of independence was that older people were able to negotiate (or have negotiated for them) a package of support they felt comfortable with and which reflected their unique needs, values and priorities.


Growth in Specialist Stroke Units

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A new survey has shown that more than four-fifths of NHS hospitals now have specialist stroke units.

The biannual National Sentinel Audit of Stroke found that 82 per cent of NHS hospitals in England now had specialist units, up from 73 per cent in 2002. Ten years ago there were almost no specialist stroke units.

The report, from the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), said that good progress has been made, but it criticised the 39 hospitals that had not yet created units. It called on them to establish stroke services as a priority, in line with requirements in the National Service Framework for Older People.

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