The Need for Improved Health and Social Reforms for Britain’s Aging Population

Photo Credit: Garry Knight

In today’s society, social and health care reforms for the elderly are more important than ever due to increasing aging populations worldwide. In Britain, these reforms have not greatly supported elderly care and need some major improvements. The current situation is shameful as more elderly should receive the care they need. Funding for health and social care services have been decreasing since 2005. In 2005-2006, a total of 1.231 million people aged 65 and older received some form of social care while in 2012-2013, a total of 896,000 received assistance. This shows a decrease of 335,000 elderly who did not receive the necessary care and services, although the overall number of elderly has been increasing in the last years. These services, such as Meals on Wheels or visits to daycare centers, had been terminated but are important to the elderly since it allowed them to live at home independently and have daily social interactions.

Oftentimes, the elderly do not have the support of their families and rely on these social services. As we get older, illnesses and disabilities can prevent us from getting out and becoming socially active. Life-changing events such as retirement and death of a family member or friend can also increase the risk of loneliness and isolation. In fact, 46% of people aged 80 and older reported that they often feel lonely. In addition, 10% of the population mentioned that television is their main form of company. This is sad and shocking at the same time. Are we all too busy to visit our parents or grandparents? “Each and every lonely person has someone who could visit them and offer companionship,” states states British Health Secretary Mr. Hunt to the Daily Express.

What can we do to involve the elderly in our lives and communities? Britain has started to recruit volunteers since they are important to nursing homes and older adults living at home. Volunteers provide much needed companionship and connections to communities. For example, Prime Minister David Cameron activated 30,000 teenagers to help people with dementia. In addition, these teens will teach the elderly modern technology so they can use Skype to talk with their families via internet.

Britain can also learn from health care or social systems in other European countries. A study showed that the elderly in Britain are poorer and lonelier than in similar European Countries. In addition, “they are more likely to suffer ageism in health care and in their daily lives than in either Germany, Sweden or the Netherlands.”

A role model for elderly care is the Asian culture that is well known for the respect and good treatment of the elderly. If an older person cannot live at home anymore, he or she will be taken in by family members. Nursing homes are usually the last option family members will consider as there is a strong social interaction and relationship among all generations. Britain as well as other countries can learn from this and strengthen the social relationships between generations.

Martina Lesperance is a Health Educator and Screening Technician in El Paso, Texas. 

 

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An Invisible Epidemic: Substance Abuse Among Baby Boomers in Europe

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Substance abuse among the elderly is a real problem. In Europe, it was reported that the number of people over the age of 65 with a problem of drug abuse will double between 2001 and 2020. These substances include legal medication, tobacco, alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription drugs, as well as over-the counter medicine. One of the reasons why there is an increase of substance abuse among today’s elderly, also called Baby Boomers, is because they have a more tolerant attitude towards drugs, which in the 1960’s, were acceptable for recreational use. Other reasons are mostly related to emotional and psychosocial issues that result from dealing with difficult life changes or situations. These life situations may be caused by a death of a friend or family member, retirement, loneliness, depression, and even homelessness. The elderly use drugs to compensate for the loneliness and social isolation they may experience. However, being intoxicated definitely hinders them to take part in social events and gatherings, which could improve their mental state. It seems to be a cycle that a drug user may not get out of without help.

Most reports and research about substance abuse are focused on the younger generation although with an increase of aging population worldwide, drug abuse among the elderly has become more of a problem and is often referred to as a hidden or “invisible epidemic”. Why is this a public health issue we need to fix? Drug abuse not only affects the mental state of a person but can also lead to physical harm. Alcohol and illegal drug abuse are among the top ten risk factors for premature death and health problems. It is also reported that the mortality rate of older drug users is significantly higher compared to young drug users.

After a long-term drug abuse, one may experience memory loss, social isolation, weight loss, and pain. Older people who are drug users are intoxicated and more likely to suffer falls and serious injuries. Especially after a fall, their mental and physical health will decline rapidly. In most cases, substance abuse of older adults who live at home alone will go undetected because they are able to hide it from their family as well as their physician. Physicians are often not able to differentiate between the symptoms of substance use and symptoms of aging. This is why the elderly rarely get referred to a Substance Abuse Specialist so they can receive the help they need. It is important to raise awareness of substance abuse among the older generation. We need to educate physicians, nurses, as well as our family members on how to recognize symptoms or behaviors of substance abuse. In addition, treatments and interventions have to be tailored to the needs of older drug users.

Martina Lesperance is a Health Educator and Screening Technician in El Paso, Texas. 

Dementia Village: A Unique Place

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Dementia
can affect anybody and there is no cure for it. It is estimated that in 2050, more than 16 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s, which is the most common form of dementia. Dementia is a disease that affects the mental ability to perform everyday life activities. A person who has dementia progressively experiences a decline in memory loss which results in confusion and even fear. Imagine if you could not remember your own spouse, children, or even forget where you are at a certain time? People with dementia live in their own world and as the disease progresses, need help from care givers. Oftentimes, this care will be provided in a nursing home.

In Holland, a Dementia Village called “Hogewey”, has been created where every patient has dementia. The nursing home has specialized itself to provide care to dementia patients and offers amenities that the elderly need to feel at home and secured. All rooms face a courtyard in which patients can sit outside, enjoy the sun, and even go for a walk on a trail. Physical exercise is important for all ages and even for elderly with dementia. Exercise benefits the brain cells and oxygen flows to the brain. For the families, it is a relief to know that their loved ones are taken care of and can live in a world that is true to them.

Hogewey is certainly a unique place and its positive effects on patient care have already been studied by Germany, Switzerland and USA. In the USA, a dementia village is already in planning. It will be based in San Luis Obispo and called Maha Cielo Village. No one knows how much it will cost to build the village or how much the monthly rent will be for elderly. Just so you know, the construction of Hogewey cost $25 million, of which $22 million was funded by the Dutch government. Although it is a great project, not every patient with Dementia may be able to afford the monthly rent of $7000 at Hogewey or at any other Dementia Village. Government agencies, insurances, non-profit or private organizations may have to come on board and support patients needing financial assistance.

Martina Lesperance is a Health Educator and Screening Technician in El Paso, Texas. 

Italy: How Location Affects Mental Health

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Depression among the elderly is very common and can cause suicidal thoughts. People think that having depression is part of growing old and a disease that needs to be lived with. However, depression can be treated. There are many factors that can cause depression such as losing a lifelong partner and seeing their own children grow up. These life situations can result in many elderly people feeling useless and asking themselves: What else is there to live for? Is death the only thing to wait for?

In Italy, researchers have found out that a certain factor contributes to depression among the elderly more than gender, marital status, age, or lifestyle choices. This factor is that the elderly who live on the island of Sardinia are less depressed than Italian elderly from anywhere else in the country. Does it really make a difference where you live? Yes, it does. In the field of Public Health, we know that availability and infrastructure of health care services as well as social and recreational services are important for the peoples’ well-being. Elderly from Sardinia have health care services nearby to get treatment and preventive services they need. In addition, they are more physically active and more socially and culturally engaged, which increases their self-esteem and mental health.

What can Italy and other countries worldwide take away from this study? I believe that offering cultural, social, and recreational events for the elderly can improve their mental health. In addition, improving health care services in cities as well as in rural areas can not only prevent many mental and physical illnesses, but also give the elderly the treatments needed to live a longer independent life.

Martina Lesperance is a Health Educator and Screening Technician in El Paso, Texas.

Sweden: A Role Model for Elderly Care

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As mentioned in previous blog entries, worldwide, countries are facing challenges due to aging. By 2050, the elderly will outnumber children under the age of 15, mostly in developing countries. So, reforms for more cost-effective health care systems for elderly’s long-term care are becoming more and more important. Sweden is known for its universal and comprehensive social and health care programs. Most care is funded by citizen’s taxes. In fact, Sweden allocates 3.6% of its GDP on long-term care and also provides the highest number of health care workers for the elderly over the age of 65. As a result, it is not surprising that in 2013, Sweden was ranked first for treatment of elderly in a United Nations (UN) supported global study, The Global AgeWatch Index (BBC).

Sweden is one of the nations that established reforms which focus on and encourage high quality long-term care for elderly in institutions as well as in home care. In Sweden, municipalities are responsible for elderly care and provide funding for in home assistance as well as manage the needs of accessible housing. 94% of the elderly over the age of 65 live at home and are given the opportunity to live an independent life, even if someone is in need of supported assistance. If an older person needs assistance from a health care worker, he or she can apply for this assistance. In addition, most regions offer ready-cooked meals which are even delivered to the elderly’s home.

Sweden’s approach of taking care of the elderly in their own home is unique and allows them to keep their independence. In addition, their families are at ease knowing that their loved ones are in good care. Is this a system that can be adopted by other countries? Who wouldn’t wish to live at home until the end of life? Don’t the elderly have a right to decide where they want to live? It is great to see that the Swedish local governments give them the option to either live at home or in accessible housing. The seniors contributed to their communities all their lives. They have worked, raised a family, and paid taxes, therefore securing care for their countrymen and women. They deserve to receive the same high quality of care. In addition to the care the elderly receive, health care workers are needed and appreciated. So it is a win-win situation for everybody: the elderly, their families, as well as all current and futures citizens of Sweden.

Martina Lesperance is a Health Educator and Screening Technician in El Paso, Texas.