x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

First geriatric care centre set to open

As country ages, the need for facilities for the elderly is increasing.

The UAE's first dedicated geriatric rehabilitation centre is to open in Dubai next year.

It will serve adult and elderly patients who need treatment to regain partial or full independence.

Services will include physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, nutritional care, hydrotherapy and psychological counselling.

The centre will be located in Al Safa 2 and will accommodate 30 inpatients and 20 outpatients.

At present there are no dedicated geriatric centres outside of hospitals in the country, making this the first comprehensive public rehabilitation facility specifically catering to the elderly.

"As medicine progresses, life expectancy increases and this directly results in an increase in the number of elderly in the country," said Dr Salwa Al Suwaidi, a geriatrician at Dubai Health Authority and the centre's project manager.

According to figures from the authority, four decades ago the average life expectancy in the UAE was 53. It is currently 74.8 for men and 77.6 for women in Dubai.

The number of Emiratis in the country age 60 or older rose from 24,520 in 1995 to 64,278 in 2005. In 2010, five per cent of the Emirati population in Dubai was 60 or older, a figure expected to rise to 6.8 per cent by 2015 and 11 per cent by 2025.

In addition to providing treatment on the premises, the centre will offer post-rehab services, which will involve therapists from the centre visiting patients' homes until they can adjust to their surroundings.

Specialists from the authority also recently participated in a course focusing on caring for the elderly, hosted by the Middle East Academy for Medicine of Ageing in Qatar.

While these initiatives are steps in the right direction, more work is needed to integrate the elderly into the community, said Rima Sabban, an assistant sociology professor at Zayed University.

The increasing rate of nuclear families in the country coupled with more working women leaves families relying on domestic workers for help, often resulting in the "marginalisation" of the elderly, Dr Sabban said.

"You often find the elderly left in a room with nothing but domestic help and this leaves them feeling abandoned," she said.

With four homes for elderly Emiratis in the country, more needs to be done to assimilate seniors into society.

"Not everyone can rely on the same places," Dr Sabban said. "We need more options, and not in the sense as a place where they are just left behind. It needs to be a space where the elderly can socialise, be entertained and truly live."

Not only professionals need training, according to Dr Sabban.

"Your average resident needs to be trained, too, the same way there are programmes available on how to care for children," she said. "We need to embed that sense of social service into our education system and teach these values to the younger generation."

mismail@thenational.ae