(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) A rapidly growing number of ageing population has increased the need for elderly homecare in the country, said officials on Saturday on the occasion of World Health Day that was celebrated in the UAE with a focus on geriatric care.
Officials said that by shifting elderly patients to their home, a number of 'blocked beds' could be freed in hospitals.
The number of elderly in the UAE has increased threefold between 1995 to 2010 and is expected to be 20 per cent of the population by 2020.
"People now live longer due to better living conditions and improved healthcare," explained Dr Alia Ali Kaabi, specialist family physician and head of the Primary Healthcare Elderly Home Programme in Ras Al Khaimah.
She said that the elderly homecare is necessary due to the increasing number of chronic disease patients, increased expenses of hospital admissions, and to avoid hospital-acquired infections. "Patients too prefer to be treated in surroundings that are familiar to them," she explained.
A local study done in 2007 showed that some of the elderly, who had been hospitalised for the last 10 years, could easily be discharged if homecare was available. The study concluded that, in fact, over 50 per cent of the patients could be assigned homecare.
The ministry's programme that was started in RAK in December 2008 offers periodical homecare to elderly at home and also trains care-providers. Under the programme, the patient should require one visit per week for not more than two hours by the team comprising one doctor and three nurses.
The programme received its first patient in February 2009 and since then until 2010, 134 patients have been enrolled while 1,952 home visits have been made. According to Dr Alia, of those enrolled, 69 patients had hypertension, 59 had diabetes and 54 had heart disease while 91 had arthritis. In Dubai, people aged 65 and above make up a third of patients seen in PHCs. "Life expectancy in the UAE has increased and is among the highest in the region, standing at 74.8 years for males and 77 years for females in 2010," said Dr Salwa Al Swaidi, Specialist Registrar, Dubai Health Authority.
Sharjah's Social Services have a residential care programme that has enrolled 267 patients, according to Khlood Al Ali who heads the programme.
"The programme also has a permanent care under which food, housing and clothing is provided to the elderly," said Khlood.
However, to be eligible the patients need to be a resident citizen of Sharjah with no source of income and be free from infectious diseases and mental disorders. A daycare centre has provided 834 elderly with care in 2011. The programme also offers financial assistance to those in need.
"Since the programme has been introduced, there has been an increase in its demand," explained Khlood. Dr Mahmoud Fikri, Assistant Undersecretary for Health Policies at the ministry, said that the increasing number of elderly people means more chronic diseases. "This will lead to new challenges and place financial burdens on the health services," he said.