Friday, 21 August 2020

Opinion: How has the pandemic affected the elderly?

Gillian Tee

The world is ageing – this is an irrefutable fact. According to a study by the United Nations, by 2050, one in six people in the world will be over 65. We need to start talking about eldercare more openly and preparing for it.

In the next 35 years, we can expect to add one billion older individuals to the world’s population. Notably, the size of the 85-years-old and above crowd – the so called old-old – will increase, and their needs and capacities tend to differ significantly from those who are merely old (age 75-84).

As such, long-term care will continue to be very much in demand. A key issue we need to solve is the shortage of caregivers. Fortunately, since 80% of long-term care needs are non-medical, technically anyone who wants to, and is motivated to, can help to fill this gap. This is where Homage comes in: by tapping into a flexible pool of non-clinical care professionals, we can match the right type of caretaker to an individual’s needs.

As a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, there will be an increased need for trained home caregivers, as well as for trained care workers that can help facilitate Covid-19 health screenings and provide care assistance in nursing homes, hospitals and Covid-19 recovery and isolation facilities. This makes it even more important for all parties in the long-term healthcare sectors – be it private or public – to come together to play a part in training and mobilising caregivers.

Technology will play a vital role in the future of elderly care

The evolution of technology will be a game changer for the industry. Right now, the care model is moving towards preventative care, focusing on predictive analytics – such as the Apple Watch being able to tell if you’re at risk of a heart attack based on your vital signs – where data is used to predict potential conditions.

This includes wearables, sensors, genome technology and even mobility aids like wheelchairs that automatically halt when going down a slope. Other such care devices include an automatic spa bath for wheelchair-bound patients that relieves caregivers of this strenuous daily task. There are also wearable assisted devices used by individuals who’ve undergone full hip replacements that help track their recovery progress.

We also need to figure out how to better communicate about elderly care as a society. In Asia, long-term elderly care is sometimes still considered shameful, which shouldn’t be the case. Countries like Australia, Switzerland and some Scandinavian countries do a good job of not stigmatising it. Aged care in these countries is the norm. It’s talked about, and people of almost all ages know what it is, so they are able to tap into the various schemes and aged care solutions when they need it.

“We need to consider not just life span, but also health span – how to live well as we age”

We need to start treating the whole concept of retirement and ageing the same way we talk about wellness, yoga and meditation – by discussing it widely and openly. We need to consider not just life span, but also health span – how to live well as we age.

It’s important to recognise that a key component of an individual’s wellness is close integration with their social network and communities. For the elderly, it is no different. In this phase of post-circuit breaker reopening, families and organisations can continue to arrange safe, small group activities for the elderly as long as safe distancing is practised. Professional services can also be tapped upon where a carer, registered with an essential service and trained in the required infection control and safe hygiene practices, can be sent to the elderly’s home to engage the senior.

Ultimately, healthcare for the ageing is a right. To bring about some real change, we will need more public and private partnerships between healthcare players. They will need to cooperate and understand their core capabilities and share information in a transparent manner in order to increase the focus on healthcare support and awareness.

My personal conviction is the need to professionalise aged care, have a certain rigour regarding it and put some real financial power behind it – only then will we see a meaningful solution to an issue that’ll impact all of us, young and old.

SEE ALSO: Opinion: We need to have more open conversations about mental health

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