Maintaining Independence – Practical Tips for Older People and their Families

When older people experience a decline in their physical abilities due to illness or an event such as a fall, it can be tricky to help them to maintain their independence and remain in their own home.  Their friends may be in a similar predicament and family members are often trying to juggle jobs and children, so time is in short supply.  Ideally, the precious time that is available should be quality time to enjoy each other’s company rather than a stressful rush to do all the “jobs” which inevitably leads to frayed tempers and, worse case scenario, a failure to cope.

To give an older person the best chance of confidently remaining in their own home and continuing to maintain a good quality of life, there are a few practical things that can be done.


Attendance Allowance

A little bit of extra cash to help fund some necessities is a good place to start.

Attendance allowance is a payment available to people aged 65 years and over who need help with personal care (washing, dressing or eating) due to illness or disability.  It is not means tested.  So, if a person qualifies as needing help, they should get the allowance.  The other great thing about this allowance is there are no restrictions on how it is spent so it can be used on whatever helps the older person the most.

You can request a claim form from the Attendance Allowance Helpline: 0800 731 0122 (Textphone: 0800 731 0317) or online at:

The downside is that the claim form is long and tedious to complete but it really is worth the effort.  It’s important to give as much detail as possible of everything the older person struggles with on their worst days.  Don’t worry about repeating yourself – its better to say things twice than miss something out.  Do make sure you keep a copy of the completed form just in case it gets lost.  It does happen and it’s soul destroying to have to complete it a second time from scratch.

Preparation is key.  This article is worth a read before you start:


Community Alarms / Life Lines

To put everyone’s mind at ease, it is always sensible to have a plan on how to summon help quickly if an emergency arises.  In addition to having informal arrangements with family, friends and neighbours, having a community alarm is something to consider.

A community alarm consists of a base unit which plugs into the telephone line and a pendant which goes around the wrist or neck of the user. (The pendants are waterproof so they can even be worn in the bath or shower).  In an emergency, the user pushes the button on the pendant and alerts the monitoring service.  The monitoring service respond and assess the situation over the base unit’s loudspeaker.  If help is required, emergency contacts are alerted, or the emergency services are dispatched.

It is possible to purchase the base unit and pendant alone and simply link it to a family member or friend who is likely to be able to respond reliably if the alarm is activated.  However, we would recommend that you set up an arrangement that links to a 24/7 monitoring service as it provides a guaranteed response at anytime of day or night.

Do check which community alarm scheme your local authority recommends (this information should be available on their website).  In some areas, the local authority subsidises a community alarm scheme making it a bit cheaper than other schemes.  Some schemes also include the option of alerting a local mobile response unit if help is required rather than family or friends being the designated emergency contacts.  This is particularly helpful if family or friends find it difficult to respond due to personal commitments or distance.

Most community alarm schemes require a key safe to be in place.  These are readily available in most DIY stores or online.  The monitoring service will hold the key safe code so that they can inform the emergency service should they be required.


Daily Living Aids / Equipment

There are lots of aids available that make daily living tasks such as climbing the stairs, getting on and off the loo or in and out of bed possible and safe for those not as physically agile or dextrous as they once were.

To get help and advice about the best solutions to overcome practical difficulties, contact your local Adult Community Occupational Therapy Service.  Occupational Therapists (OT’s) are responsible for carrying out assessments and providing services that help people remain as independent as possible in their own home.  Some equipment is funded by the NHS or social services if the OT assesses that a person needs it.

Adult Community Occupational Therapy Services are funded by local authorities but are sometimes provided by the local NHS so its not always obvious how to find them.  We suggest searching your local authority’s website or giving the local authority a call to ask for contact details of the local service.  Alternatively, ask your GP practice how to contact the service.

If you would like to do your own research, the Disabled Living Foundation (DLF) website provides a lot of information about what is available and what should be considered in choosing the most appropriate equipment.  If you are supporting someone with dementia, take a look at the Unforgettable website for some simple and ingenious aids.


Repeat Medications

Arranging repeat prescriptions and collecting medications can be a real hassle particularly if you need to do it for someone else.

Many GP surgeries and local pharmacies use the NHS Electronic Prescription Service to make it easier for you.  The pharmacy can, with permission from the patient, liaise directly with GP practice to get the repeat prescription.  The medicines can then either be collected directly from the pharmacy or they can be delivered free to the patient.  If your local pharmacy doesn’t provide this service, there are reputable online pharmacies that you can use instead.  You can get more information about the Free Repeat Prescription Service directly from your GP practice or from your local pharmacy.

We hope this blog helps you to ask the right questions and talk to the right people to get the support you need.  We’d be delighted to hear how you get on.  If you have any of your own suggestions or tips, please comment below.


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