x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

A wake-up call on care for the elderly

News that the elderly population is growing rapidly requires urgent action from government and society at large.

When Dubai authorities revealed in October 2010 that 468 (out of about 8,000) elderly people in the emirate had not been provided care, the news was surprising to many. A study in 2000 found that 99.5 per cent of elderly Emiratis lived with their families and the remaining 0.5 per cent were attended to by the Government because they had medical needs for which their families could not provide. The news in 2010 triggered a wide debate on the issue, with some calling for a special fund to cater for this sector of society.

The issue is now becoming more alarming. As The National reports today, experts say the country must prepare its health services to cope with a rapidly ageing population. The number of Emiratis over the age of 60 has grown by 22 per cent in a span of five years and the number is projected to increase by another 20 per cent in the next five years (to reach 47,000 by 2015).

It is important that authorities provide necessary facilities and programmes to cater for this increasingly elderly population. Treatment at hospitals is not sufficient; authorities must help to provide for mental and psychological health as well. Many families prefer to keep elderly family members with a maid at home rather than send them to a care home, which is seen as socially unacceptable. These members of society must have creative and social outlets as well.

Providing facilities, like elderly clubs where people can engage in social activities and receive basic medical treatment at the same time, will make it easier for families. It is important that new housing projects, in Abu Dhabi or elsewhere, include such facilities.

But the real care of the elderly must be the responsibility of family members and the community. Governments cannot force families to be kind. Old people tend to feel neglected or without value because of circumstances involving the immediate family.

The reasons for elder neglect vary: housing issues, the generation gap that leads to disagreements between the old and the young, long working hours that force some families to send elderly relatives to care homes, or a simple financial inability to pay for medical expenses. Authorities can help in some of those issues, but it is family care that matters the most.