x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Ready to care for the silver generation

Authorities plan to expand home care services and add day centres.

An elderly full-time patient relaxes in the living room of the Ajman Elderly Nursing Home. Patients are only allowed to be admitted if they have no sons or daughters.
An elderly full-time patient relaxes in the living room of the Ajman Elderly Nursing Home. Patients are only allowed to be admitted if they have no sons or daughters.

DUBAI // As the elderly population grows, authorities are preparing for the geriatric boom by expanding home care services, pensioners' programmes and day centres.

In 2010, there were almost 40,000 people over the age of 60 in the UAE. The Ministry of Health (MoH) expects this figure to increase by 20 per cent by 2020.

Home care is a popular option because sending an elderly family member to a nursing home is culturally unacceptable.

A team of healthcare professionals visit patients' homes and the service is free for Emiratis.

The MoH plans to have at least one dedicated team in each emirate within the next five years.

The ministry uses available staff at 13 of its health centres in Dubai and the northern emirates to attend to its 290 registered patients.

The medics test blood pressure and blood sugar levels, monitor vital signs and vaccinate against influenza and pneumococcal disease.

"Training family members and relatives how to deal with the elderly is also very important," said Dr Muna Al Kuwari, director of the primary health department at the MoH. "We need to make sure they know how to take care of them while we are not present."

In Dubai, 5 per cent of the Emirati population was 60 or older in 2010 - a figure expected to rise to nearly 7 per cent by 2015 and 11 per cent by 2025. The emirate is working on a geriatric rehabilitation centre that will serve adult and elderly patients who need treatment such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy or speech therapy, to regain partial or full independence.

Other services include nutritional care, hydrotherapy and psychological counselling.

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

The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) launched a home care programme similar to the MoH's in January, but their programme deploys specialised geriatricians.

Carmelita Samson, the scheme's case manager, said this did not come without challenges.

"The geriatricians are always very busy," she said. "So working around their schedules is difficult.

"We will definitely need more as we expand but this is up to the higher authorities."

The team comprises three geriatricians, one physiatrist (a medically licensed physio), two physiotherapists and one nurse. The programme managers said another four nurses and two geriatricians were needed.

Transport has also been a challenge for the team, said Ms Samson. If the programme had its own dedicated vehicle it would allow the teams to cover more ground.

The team makes two home visits daily, which last for about 90 minutes each.

"I either hire our own car or we borrow one from another department," said Ms Samson. "We requested one last year but we still have not received anything."

The programme operates from the DHA's Al Safa, Al Khawaneej and Nad Al Hamar primary health care clinics, but patients can be referred to the service by any of the authority's 11 other centres.

The project will be expanded to the DHA's remaining clinic by the end of next month.

To make up for the lack of specialists, the DHA is training general practitioners in the skills needed for basic elderly care at each of its 14 clinics.

Other long-term plans at the DHA include the commission of a mobile clinic, in which the team can travel across the emirate with medical equipment such as a portable X-ray machine and a blood analysis kit.

The Ministry of Social Affairs (Mosa) also has plans for elderly care, including clubs and pensioner programmes.

Three months ago, Mosa began conducting a study to assess the number of Emiratis due to retire over the next five years. The results will be announced by the end of the year.

"We develop a plan for a person who is in his late 50s and is considering retirement," said Fawzya Taresh Rabee, director of Mosa's family development department. "Just because he leaves his career, it doesn't mean it is the end of the line. We can find something he can do, either paid or as a hobby, to keep him active.

"The moment an old person becomes inactive, his health begins deteriorating.

"This programme will help prevent the person from reaching this stage."

Anna Steel, a DHA physiatrist, said: "We know that after a certain age we can't solve all the person's health problems, but we can certainly improve their quality of life.

"That is the purpose of all of this - to make the last years of their lives as happy and comfortable as possible."

mismail@thenational.ae