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Living Longer: Birmingham in the 21st century
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The number of "family" carers out number professional carers by 4 to 1

There's no question that we are generally living longer.

As the first baby boomers are about to turn 65 in the new year, the BBC is looking at the effects an older population will have on our society.

We hear from older people in the West Midlands and those who care for the elderly - exploring a range of issues around old age and elderly care.

By 2031 a quarter of the population of Britain will be over 65 and the number of people aged over 85 will have doubled by the same date.

Christine Ransome-Wallis: Cost of care

Christine Ransome-Wallis

Christine from Kings Norton is 64. Her mother Margaret is 92. Sixteen years ago Margaret had mobility problems so she went to live with Christine.

"I was coming home from work and trying to look after mum, but it just got too much in the end, so I retired, took on full time caring responsibilities and went from paying higher rate tax to living on benefits. My savings got used up."

Eventually Christine's mum deteriorated and needed looking after around the clock. So on benefits and without savings, the local authority is now paying for Margaret's care at a home in Birmingham. She's been there for three years, bed ridden and blind.

"Every day I go to see her it's more pitiful - I wouldn't wish it on anyone." Christine says her mother just doesn't want to live any more.

"The home she's in now was my second choice. The top up fee for my first choice home was £150 a week. I live on a pension so I'd have to sell my house - but that's mortgaging my future as well.

"It really is worrying, and it frightens me that what I've worked for all my life, will go to pay for my care."

Thinking of care for the future, Christine says: "It's got to be about providing better value, but it can't be a party political thing."

Vicki Seager: Caring for your family

Vicki Seager

Vicki has an elderly mother and a 61 year-old sister with learning disabilities and cerebral palsy.

"Because my mother's 85 now and had her own health needs, I gave up work and helped her look after my sister, but she also has her own care needs as well.

"Giving up work, you lose your regular wage. I get a carers' allowance for looking after my mother, even though I look after my sister as well, so that was quite a big drop in salary for me.

"My sister Diane used to attend a day centre in Perry Barr for 40 years. This time last year it closed down and, having gone through that, I know it's a possibility for other day centres to close and that's a particular worry for us because the day centre really is a lifeline."

Vicki is concerned that changing the present system may lead to people not being able to pay for the amount of day care they need and that if people are asked to manage their own budget, they may not be able to do so.

Dr Zoe Wyrko: NHS and social care

Dr Zoe Wyrko

Zoe works on a ward set up specifically to care for mostly elderly patients waiting to be discharged from hospital. Termed "delayed discharge" patients, there are as many as 50 people at any one time, waiting for weeks to go home.

"Although Birmingham is one city, there are three different NHS Primary Care Trusts and it actually means we have to look at a patients' post code and where their GP surgery is to know what patients are going to access when they're at home.

"In some areas we have almost no services available or they won't be available until 10 weeks after the person's gone home. In other areas we can actually phone the team on the day and we know there'll be carers and rehabilitation going in from that evening.

"Some of the best provision comes from Birmingham East and North PCT. We find it difficult to access services from South Birmingham PCT.

"In South Birmingham, it's very difficult to access some services. Because of that, hospital stays often have to be longer for therapy to be fully complete before the person is discharged back to their own home and that's something I know patients find particularly frustrating."

Andrew Skidmore: Driving opportunities

Andrew Skidmore

Getting older isn't just about care and health issues. Andrew Skidmore from Wolverhampton proves it's never too late to adapt to your surrounding and take up new challenges.

Andrew moved to London shortly after passing his driving test at the age of 18. He had no real need to drive as he used the public transport system. But after returning to Wolverhampton over 30 years later, he decided to take up driving once again.

Andrew helps to look after his elderly father and feels driving a car is now essential, for this and many other reasons. So despite Andrew's reservations and the fact that he's not a keen driver, he sees the need to do so and has embraced the challenge.

"Cars are less of an on-off button now than they used to be and have rather more functions on the dashboard! There was one incident when my partner and I didn't know how to put on the rear windscreen wiper."

But Andrew is positive about his driving future: "Whether I enjoy it or not is another matter, but I hope that is something that will come. I see all these nice older people on the road who seem to manage perfectly well, so why not me?"

Brian Whitehouse: The dating game

Brian Whitehouse

Another fact of people living longer is that many are left alone when their long-term partner dies. After Brian Whitehouse's wife Margaret passed away, he was faced with a dilemma - to date or not to date.

Brian had been with Margaret for 45 years: "We had a wonderful life together".

But Brian, aged 67, says his wife would have wanted him to move on with his life and before she died said he was not to become a grumpy old man.

It had been years since Brian had dated, so what was new? Well internet dating of course. So, Brian tried internet dating to see if he could find a perfect match.

Since joining an online dating agency in January this year, he's had three girlfriends and is positive he'll find the right partner again one day. He says there are a lot of divorced ladies around his age group as well as widows.

Brian's daughter has been supportive, but not all of Brian's family have been happy about Brian's decision to see other women and some family members no longer talk to him because of this.

But Brian believes it's what Margaret would have wanted.

  • BBC's Living Longer week takes places from Monday, 8 November 2010.

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