By 2025, there are expected to be two billion people aged 65 and older. This offers society both opportunities as well as challenges. For the past 30 years International Longevity Centre (ILC) Global Alliance has been committed to improve the quality of life and well-being of older people around the world. This is urgently needed, as loneliness, poverty and disadvantage among older people is still very common. Especially now with the COVID19 pandemic, which directly affects the elderly in their quality of life. This was the reason for the international webinar ‘A caring world – responding to the impact of the coronavirus on long-term care’ on June 18. Speakers came from the participating ILC countries Argentina, Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, England, France, the Netherlands, Singapore, and South Africa.
Singapore prepared because of SARS
In addition to sharing factual data about the numbers of infections and the mortality among the elderly, the various speakers discussed government policy in their countries. ILC Singapore indicated that much had been learned from the SARS epidemic in 2003. Since then, crisis plans, special clinics, and training have been developed so that government and society are much better prepared for a pandemic. To date, there are only 24 deaths in Singapore, 20 of which are elderly. Stringent testing policy, social distancing and good information for the population are important success factors.
Distressing cases in Canada
Brazil and the United States are often cited as countries where governments fail to address the problem adequately, resulting in high mortality rates. But this also seems to be the case in Canada. This very prosperous country reports harrowing cases, especially in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec: many older people are left to their own devices, malnourished and psychologically abused. Meanwhile, the United Nations has drawn attention to the (violation of) human rights of older people in Canada.
All speakers note that the problems that elderly care now faces – such as shortages of protective materials, testing and well-trained care personnel – are manifestations of time-honoured problems in elderly care. Nursing homes all over the world are suffering from staff shortages. Caring for older people and the lack of attention to them reflects our priorities and values. Apparently, we consider hospital care and high-tech medical treatments more important than the loving care and welfare of older people. In all countries there is a lot of excess mortality in the nursing homes, and it is experienced as harrowing that many people with dementia have died.
Each ILC member country has examples of where the human rights of older people have been violated. These violations and inequalities are related to age discrimination. Ageism – a concept coined by David Butler who founded the ILC Global Alliance – still seems to be the order of the day. The speakers therefore urge a deeper analysis of this theme and to put the human rights of older people on the agenda. There is serious concern that public confidence in the nursing home sector is declining. During this corona crisis, some older people already went from nursing homes to informal care at home. Will this continue when the crisis is over? What does this mean for the informal caregivers? And what is the long-term risk of this development?
The good news from the various speakers in the webinar is that there is again a kind of activism perceptible. We also see this in the Netherlands, where senior citizens associations are putting stereotyping images about older people on the agenda. In various countries, it has been reported how resilient the older people are coping with the crisis. They put the crisis in perspective, dose the news and have become digitally skilled. Even people with dementia seem very adaptive, for example in the use of mouth masks. This corrects the stereotypical image of the passive, rigid older person. In the Czech Republic, students intervened by sewing and handing out masks. This activism based on intergenerational solidarity is an achievement that we must cherish. The fight for the human rights of older people could become a global movement.
Social isolation and quality of life
All ILC member countries report an increase in loneliness and social isolation among older people, as a result of social distancing. It will be a major challenge to find a good balance between social isolation for the protection of people and the containment of the pandemic on the one hand, and the preservation of the quality of life and well-being of older people on the other hand. Let us highlight good examples of this from the various countries and learn from them.
From rules to relationships
In response to the crisis, some governments have taken the lead in reforming long-term care, such as in France. And the UK government, who made £ 600 million available for home care of older people. ILC member countries believe that reforms and better preparedness for the next crisis should go beyond training staff in infection control. It is about having enough qualified, stable en resilient personnel, and about improving the public confidence in the sector again. On behalf of ILC Netherlands, professor Tineke Abma from ILC the Netherlands added the following: “Let’s shift our focus from rules and restrictions back to relationships and personal care.”
Click here to watch the ILC Global Alliance webinar ‘A caring world – responding to the impact of the coronavirus on long-term care’.