Age Space co-founder Annabel James and her father Jimmy
Until 10 years ago, Annabel James had never had to face the labyrinth of medical, legal, financial and social hurdles that arise when a relative becomes old and ill. There were no conversations about end of life in her household. Her parents were enjoying retirement and living in the present – until the unthinkable happened.
“Mum had a fairly major stroke and life changed in a heartbeat,” she recalls.
“We were already behind the curve because we hadn’t given the future any thought at all.”
“Dad became her carer and we were thrown headlong into a whole new stage of life that lots of people find themselves in, as I discovered from chatting to colleagues and friends.”
Age Space helps the elderly, their family and carers with essential advice
Annabel felt overwhelmed and isolated by the care system, the funding and the legal decisions that had fallen into her hands and she began to take notice of what was missing.
Propelled by her own situation, she began her research and found a large loophole she felt she could fill to offer calm and friendly advice for people in a similar position to her.
“The issue of care is right up there with divorce, death and moving house,” she reveals.
“The whole care system is hard to navigate. It’s not just about the care. It’s the funding and legal decisions, too, like power of attorney or advance directives.”
“The solution people wanted was a one-stop online resource where they could find local information. And that was it – my light-bulb moment.”
Annabel’s answer was Age Space – like a Mumsnet for the middle-aged – an online community for the elderly, their children and carers and packed full of free expert advice and guides on elderly care, plus friendly chat, local information and top tips on quality of life, dementia, money and more.
There’s also news, a blog and local pages providing information about care homes and organisations within the different counties of the UK.
What’s different about Age Space is that it’s helping people who will have to pay for their care and make a choice about how they spend their money, and with whom, to make their lives as happy and comfortable as possible.
Annabel was inspired to create a one-stop website for help with all elderly issues
“Our market is people like me looking after elderly parents,” says Annabel, from the garden of her 85-year-old father’s home in Dorset, where she’s spending lockdown.
“I made sure I was with Dad before lockdown started. It’s been wonderful, really. We don’t think we’ve spent this much time together since I was a teenager.”
It’s weeks since the Prime Minister put social distancing rules in place and Age Space is tackling all sorts of concerns, from shopping and medication to continuing care in the uncertain months ahead.
“We’re now looking at the long-term issue – what on earth are we going to do to help our old and anxious parents who live miles away and how do we get them to follow the lockdown rules?” she says.
“People are in a panic about parents with dementia who are becoming increasingly confused and anxious.”
The website covers elderly care, legal and financial advice and much more
A former PR whizz, Annabel ran charities and fundraising outfits such as the NSPCC, Raleigh International and Help A London Child, raising millions of pounds towards ending cruelty to children and helping them towards a better life.
Now aiding the older generation, she’s creating county hubs on Age Space packed full of information on the best care homes and organisations in your own area.
“My aim by the end of the year is to have hubs operational in every county of the UK,” she reveals.
“The key to elderly care is for people like me – who live away from parents – to access local stuff.”
“If you don’t know what service you’re looking for, you’re not going to find it.”
“Our job is to guide you towards amazing resources which have always been there, like HenPower – hens in care homes – and Magic Me, who provide cocktails in care homes. How fabulous is that?”
“If you think you need something like this for your family, then we will point you in the right direction.”
Age Space has lots of local pages to find care and support in your area
Age Space started in 2016 and in four years the website, run by return-to-workers, has been a haven for thousands of users, including Annabel, who sadly lost her mother 18 months ago.
“It’s made me do what I know none of us do – take my head out of the sand and have conversations with my dad,” she explains.
“When you talk about these things you have a slight fear that you’re ambulance chasing.”
“I feel like I’m sending him to the graveyard by talking about it. But it’s fine, and no subject is off limits between us.”
Annabel’s advice to anyone considering having difficult conversations about the future is to take things slowly and go at your loved one’s pace.
It’s difficult to talk but we need to face the future together.
“I don’t think there’s any scientific evidence to suggest that talking about it brings it any closer,” says Annabel.
“I wanted Age Space to be a place of calm, without underplaying the emotional impact this stage in life brings.”
“Through Age Space I’ve managed to educate myself, my family and other people.”
“Business with purpose is a weird term but if I can tick both of those boxes then I’m happy.”
Age Space gives region-specific information and guidance on matters related to elderly care – including legal, medical, social and political advice – both for daily life and at times of crisis. See agespace.org.