Complexity of care needs of elderly carers and the people they care for at home

People with mental retardation are living longer than previously, and the health needs of this increasing population of older people are largely unknown. (31) There is a lack of specific policies for older people with mental retardation. Co-operation between services for the elderly and those for people with mental retardation is often inadequate, and some older people with mental retardation fall into a limbo between them, with no one taking overall responsibility for assessing and meeting their needs. Professionals working in services for elderly people may not want to take responsibility for older people with mental retardation, or may not feel able to meet their specific needs.(40> Conversely, the staff of mental retardation services may not feel able to adapt to the changing needs of an ageing and increasingly dependent population/1)

Families such as these present a double challenge to the services, requiring co-ordination between all relevant service providers. External sources of support need to be in place to act as a safety net in crisis situations, and to provide a suitable and acceptable care package when care within the household breaks down. Essential components of an effective service to tackle the problems that confront elderly carers include databases of all older family carers, comprehensive information resources, flexible day and respite care provision, regular reviews, and agreed plans for future care. (H)

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