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Wednesday, 20 October, 1999, 01:13 GMT 02:13 UK
Elderly disabled 'face care lottery'
Elderly disabled person
Elderly people with learning difficulties face a care lottery
Some elderly people with learning difficulties face "atrocious" services or none that cater to their needs, according to a leading charity.

There are estimated to be 24,000 people aged 60-plus in the UK who have with learning difficulties.

Their numbers are expected to double by the year 2030 as medical advances mean more people live longer.

Some 50% of people with learning difficulties now have the same life expectancy as the general population.

But campaigners say services often fail to cater for them.

The Foundation for Learning Disabilities, part of the Mental Health Foundation, says services for people with learning difficulties are often aimed at children and young adults and fail to recognise the specific needs of elderly disabled people.

It is launching a three-year programme to identify best practice in the area.

Innovation

The Growing Older with Learning Disabilities (GOLD) programme, aimed at local authorities, agencies and government, will evaluate projects deemed to promote innovation.

They include those that take into account the specific medical conditions people with learning difficulties may face in old age.

For example, people with Down's syndrome are more likely to develop early onset Alzheimer's.

Another project carried out by the University of Kent will look at how services can help women with learning difficulties through the menopause.

And an Edinburgh horticultural project run by the charity Enable will bring elderly disabled and non-disabled people together through a common interest in gardening.

John Ballock of Enable said the allotment project aimed to give retired people with learning difficulties a purpose in life and encourage social inclusion.

David Thompson, GOLD programme manager, said parents' number one priority was what would happen when they died or became infirm.

"People should not have to wait until their parent goes into hospital for a serious operation before the options for them are discussed," he said.

He added that some elderly carers hoped their child would die before them in order to spare them the trauma of suddenly losing the person they had depended on throughout their lives.

Consistency

The GOLD programme aims to provide some consistency to services for elderly people with learning difficulties.

Mr Thompson said: "There is great disparity in service provision. Some areas are excellent and others are atrocious or services for the elderly are non-existent.

Young girl with Down's Syndrome
Services for the learning disabled often centre on the young
"Some local authorities set arbitrary age limits for services and stop people receiving day care services at 60, for example."

He said the problem was one of a lack of political will as well as a lack of resources.

He added that the range of community services available to people moving from hospitals which were closing was often limited.

In the US, things were slightly more advanced, he said, because court cases had challenged whether users were receiving appropriate services.

"The UK has dragged its feet," said Mr Thompson.

"It has been 30 years since the government said it is better not to be cared for in big institutions, but still many people are in them."

He is personally in favour of the government setting national minimum standards on the kind of services elderly people with learning difficulties can expect to receive.

"That would take away the current uncertainty. Unless someone in authority pushes this through it will not get prioritised because it is not a vote winner," he added.

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