New research on ageing independence conversations

Britons are putting off difficult conversations with family and loved ones about their plans for growing older until life changing incidents happen, new research has shown.

The new study of over 4,000 UK adults commissioned by Centrica Hive and supported by Carers UK, showed that almost every surveyed over-65 (94%) has one or more concerns about the challenges associated with getting older, with over half (54%) claiming loss of independence as their biggest worry.

Despite the concerns, families would rather stay silent than talk about how to keep their independence and extend the time in which they live in their own homes. Almost one in two (49%) over-65s and three in five (60%) 40-60-year olds – the sandwich generation – admit they have not spoken to their loved ones on this matter.

Worryingly, almost half (47%) of the 4,000 UK adults polled, said it would take a life changing incident, that impacts wellbeing, before a discussion even took place.

One in two (49%) over-65’s surveyed have not had any conversations around the challenges of getting older, including how they plan to remain living independently, while just 40% of 40-60-year olds have broached the topic with their elderly parents. Both age groups expect the other to start the conversation (47% of 40-60 and 33% of over-65s) with the majority avoiding the topic altogether.

When asked as to why conversations hadn’t taken place, over a quarter (26%) of over-65s claimed to be proud of their independence and would rather not ask for help, whereas one in four (26%) hadn’t even begun to think about it. Both age groups typically worried about upsetting the other and sadly over-65’s also stated they didn’t want to be a burden.

Despite the fact one in five families (22%) talk over ten times a week with their older loved one, the stats show two in five (42%) feel guilty they don’t talk more, with a third (33%) of all conversations are just about ‘checking in’, but not discussing the practicalities of living independently in later life.

While the majority want to remain in their own home, the realities of living alone or far from loved ones can cause the whole family to worry. Amongst their main concerns, over-65’s think about falling over, leaving the front door open or unlocked, remembering to take their medication or forgetting to switch off appliances. To aide independent living, people are now looking to smart home technology to bridge the gap of wanting to live the way they always have, whilst providing peace of mind to all concerned.

The research showed both age groups believe smart home technology would help people to be independent in their own homes (36% in over-65s and 30% in 40-60-year olds), keeping them better connected, particularly when almost a quarter (24%) of families live over 100 miles away from their loved ones.

The idea of smart technology was even more appealing to over-65’s, with an overwhelming majority (73%) expressing their interest in using smart technology to remain living independent at home and stay connected with their families.

Claire Miles, Centrica Hive MD, from Centrica Hive said: “With many of our employees, including myself, having caring responsibilities outside of work, we have nurtured invaluable first-hand experience in understanding how to help sustain independence in later life and living longer at home.

Through our ongoing partnership with Carers UK, we are now working to help shape the conversation into a positive one, supporting carers and their loved ones to prepare for the future and show how smart technology can support those who want to live independently in their home.

Our new smart service, Hive Link, was developed with Carers UK as an answer to this need and already in the short time since its launch, we are seeing people enjoy the benefits it can offer, providing reassurance and enabling independence”.

Madeleine Starr MBE, Director at Carers UK said: “The reality of getting older is a challenge every family faces. As a son or a daughter you instinctively want to help but it can be hard to know where to start.

“It’s important to have an honest conversation with loved ones about plans for the future early on, rather than putting it off until a crisis hits. When the time feels right, sharing your thoughts and preferences is a good place to start.

“In an ageing society smart home technology can be a great way to help families feel supported, especially if they live far apart. It provides reassurance and peace of mind, and helps loved ones live independently for longer.

The research also showed:

  • Of those that had discussed preparations with their loved ones, research showed over-65s are more concerned with their family and others wellbeing, than their own independence.
  • Over half (53%) said making a will had been discussed, but only one in three (34%) had talked about remaining independent at home or being financially independent and one in four (28%) about readying the home for later living.
  • Both age groups said the main reasons for not having a conversation about the challenges of getting older is that they do not want their loved one to ‘worry’ (25% in over-65s and 20% in 40-60 year olds).
  • Almost one in five 40-60 years olds (18%) felt the conversation would be too uncomfortable or awkward, one in five (21%) did not want to cause upset, and 16% and 15% either haven’t thought about or not wanting to think about it.
  • Interestingly, the belief of ‘always being independent’ was high within both age groups, with a quarter of all over-65s (27%) and one in five (19%) of 40-60-year olds thinking they would never need support.
  • Almost four out of five (83%) over-65s said they would not want to live in a care home, with 71% seeing this as losing their independence and two in five (40%) not wanting to rely on others.
  • More than one in three people (36%) worry about their older relative’s personal safety at home, with almost a third (30%) concerned they would experience loneliness or isolation. However, due to distance and an increasing number of commitments, including caring for children and work-related responsibilities, almost half (49%) found themselves relying on others for support.
  • Each day, families spent on average of 42 minutes worrying about their loved ones, with almost one in five (17%) spending over an hour. Almost a quarter (23%) said they did not worry.

For more information on how to start the conversation of independent living with a loved one, please visit the Carers UK website.

To learn more about how smart home technology can enable independent living, visit the Hive Link website.