Elderly housemates – Life at 100.


Why house sharing must be a part of the future.

For anyone watching the Joan Bakewell presented Panorama programme ‘Life at 100’ on Monday night, there must have been mixed emotions.

On the one hand we were introduced to several sprightly centenarians with what one has to say is a relatively good quality of life. Apart from the fact that all had enjoyed relatively good health, which is a large part of why they are Centenarians, they all displayed a positive outlook on life. This was the aspirational part.

On the other we also had the briefest glimpse of a residential care home for dementia sufferers and heard from doctors performing hip-replacement operations on patients over 85 who also had several other chronic conditions. This provided balance in the programme, which asked the question what will Life at 100 be like for the 1/3 of babies born this year and for the 148,000 centenarians who are predicted to be alive in 2049? (I’ll only be 88 which is not entirely comforting!)
Why sharing must be a part of the future

The main point raised at the beginning of the programme, as has been raised by numerous demographers, insurance companies and of course the government and civil service planners, is that the 10-fold increase in the number of centenarians (and similar increases in all older age groups) will put new and daunting pressure on our finances and resources.

Two statistics stand out, one well-known and one revealed in the programme.

Firstly, that the NHS spends 9% of its annual budget on the 2% of the population aged 85 and over. If we see a 10-fold increase in the number of people in this age group then that means we will need funding to pay for the same level of health and social care for 10 times as many – that alone could add some 60% to the NHS bill.

Secondly the programme told us that there are already 92,000 carers over the age of 85 looking after a family member or household member.

So the combination of these two predictions means funding will be hard-pushed to meet demand. Add to that a generally ageing population in which there are less young people earning the taxes to pay for pensions and social care, and we can see that solutions other than financial will also be required by individuals and by governments. Change is required not just more money.

As our own analysis has shown, house sharing can help reduce the cost of accommodation by around 40%-60% depending on whether you share with just one other or two other people. This saving can be used to fund social activities and make live more fun, besides helping cost the day-to-day cost of living.

Who to share with and support you?

In more than one case in the programme there was a large family of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren living nearby and supporting the centenarian. What if someone does not have that family support at all or they do not live locally?

In that case the responsibility falls on the local social service teams trying to help keep the elderly person living independently in their home. But independence is a relative term and we saw in the programme how important carers and other support are to the lives of older people; they do not only provide physical support but also emotional support. For some the cleaner becomes the part-time carer.

In one case we were also shown the case centenarian looking after her son who was suffering from cancer and living at his mother’s house, where she cared for him, supported by others. This is not typical at present but one can imagine the scenario occurring more and more because not everyone will live to 100. Interestingly being her son’s carer gave her a sense of purpose. She continued to be ‘mum’ and to care for her child.

But what if you do not have a large family or even a single child, or one that lives close enough to visit? Then the added burden of loneliness stalks you.

That is the other reason that house sharing must be a part of Later Life in future. Besides the financial benefits of sharing accommodation, the emotional and social benefit of having someone else in the house, whether they are older or younger, is equally important and arguably after physical health the most important determinant of well-being in Later Life.

Whilst older age – and I think we can still safely say over 85 is ‘old’ – requires support from others, some of whom need to be younger people, one can imagine that those support services would be more easily and economically delivered if more than one independent-living elderly person shared the same home. What is optimum? Six or eight people sharing their communal space and having an onsite emergency care service? Visits scheduled once a month by a chiropodist or dentist? We need to start to imagine these environments and opportunities.

Let’s celebrate the centenarians we already have but start to think about how we’ll live and how we’ll financially and socially support the wave of centenarians and over 85 year olds that are coming. After all, many of us will be a part of that cohort.


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