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UAE to focus on care for elderly

Asma Hamid (Staff Reporter) / 21 April 2008

ABU DHABI - Understanding the health problems associated with old age and integrating the elderly into society has become a critical concern as the UAE's elderly population reflected an eight per cent increase in 2006 over 2005, according to Ministry of Economy statistics.

The increase in the number of the elderly is a global phenomenon, as by the beginning of the third millennium a third of the world's residents will be 60-plus, according to World Bank.

In order to raise awareness regarding the needs of this segment, the Abu Dhabi International Aging Conference will begin in the capital on April 23, under the patronage of Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and chairpersonship of Shaikha Fatima bint Mubarak, Higher Chairperson of the Family Development Foundation, discussing mechanisms for providing better psychological and social services to the elderly people.

Organised by the Family Development Foundation, in association with the Ministry of Social Affairs, the three-day conference is aimed at reviewing international experiences in care for the elderly and preventive actions that could be taken by people approaching old age.

With the participation of representatives from 75 countries, it will also tackle certain technical terms such as senility, latest scientific discoveries on senility, senility of mind and soul, and healthy lifestyles.

Speaking at a Press conference on Saturday, Minister of Social Affairs Maryam Al Roumi said the definitions of senility and old age should be revised to mean those over 80 years as opposed to those over 60, as the average lifespan has increased.

"Currently, there is a lack of awareness regarding elderly care and aging in our society," according to Dr Ayman Jweinat, Internal Medicine Specialist at Abu Dhabi Rehabilitation Centre.

Dr Jweinat told  Khaleej Times that many elderly people may experience psychological problems such as depression, which may be caused by feelings of powerlessness, or feeling neglected by their family members.

He added that it is important to be sensitive to the needs of the elderly and to be aware of medical conditions associated with aging in order to provide the elderly with appropriate and timely care.

"Sometimes there may be instances when an elder withdraws and stops talking. Some families assume that this behaviour is attributed to old age and decide to take no action, leaving the elderly to regress into even more depression. Families may also ignore physical problems such as an elder's inability to walk, which may have a medical solution if the patient is taken to the doctor at the onset of symptoms," said Dr Jweinat.

"The only centre in the city that provides specialised care for the elderly is the Abu Dhabi Rehabilitation Centre, but the centre is not a home for the elderly. It is rather a medical facility that houses elderly patients who require medical attention," he stressed.

The centre provides patients with medical support, in addition to psychological counselling to ensure a holistic healing process for each patient. Some elderly patients have been living in the centre for nearly 20 years, while others have been treated and sent home.

Ethics, religion, and customs of the UAE do not allow people to leave relatives at the rehabilitation centre or in an elderly home, said Dr Jweinat. "Most of the patients here need special care that is not offered at home and a small number do not have a daughter or a son or any relative to take care of them, and thus find themselves with no options but to stay in the rehabilitation centre.

The biggest problem that the elderly face is feeling that they are losing their autonomy, according to Dr Elzein Abbas Omara, former director of Abu Dhabi Psychiatry Hospital and consultant psychiatrist and mental health adviser at Al Noor Hospital.

He said there were many misconceptions regarding the elderly such as the assumption that an elder is incapable of being an active and productive member of society.


"The principles for a healthy aging experience is changing the convictions of the elderly and those in their lives, regarding the aging process, and stressing that their journey is still long and must be lived without a preconceived notion of inevitable despair or weakness," he said.
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