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many faces of the Hopi [Photo Credit: wikimedia commons]

In honor of the UN International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, it’s essential to pause and consider the social fabrics that dictate our understanding and perception of the field of ageing. An article from Indian Countryon North American indigenous peoples’ reaction to dementia within their communities helps us learn from one another.

While Alzheimer’s occurs at about the same rate among older Native Americans/Alaska Natives as it does within the continental United States, the approach to treatment is unique.

David Maes, of Hopi/Apache descent, is establishing a nonprofit in Denver, Colorado called Taawa Energy Center (Taawa) – meaning “sun” in Hopi.  The center will care for elders living with dementia through an approach that seeks and uses ‘the essence of the person’ for healing.

His focus in treatment changes from management of disease to caring for the whole person. “Specialists think they are treating the whole person, but in fact they’re fragmenting the person,” says Maes.

There is something that everyone around the world can learn from the Native approach.  Native Americans do not share the stigma and ageism associated with caregiving to elders.  In fact, it is associated with normal aging in the Indian community.  The community shares their input and support, traditional healing practices and traditional medicine with the elderly.

Maes says “among aboriginal and Native people, those with dementia [of which Alzheimer’s is one form] are the spiritual people, beginning to leave this world to enter a world where everything is positive and good. There’s no judgment in that world.”

To read the full story, visit: http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2012/07/23/native-approach-to-dementia-stresses-human-spirit-124684#ixzz234x1rUBr  

The month of Ramadan is about compassion and giving for Muslims around the world.  This makes it an especially important time to reach out to the elderly who are lonely, without companionship or family.

In Qatar, as part of the Reach Out to Asia (ROTA) initiative, volunteers are reaching out to the elderly at the Qatar Foundation for Elderly Care.  Last weekend, ROTA volunteers shared iftar (meal breaking the fast) and interacted with residents.

A UK based organization is donating food packs for iftar to vulnerable people in the community or those who cannot attend events on their own.

In Indonesia, the Jakarta Family Welfare Movement (PKK) in cooperation with the Red Cross is providing donations for the elderly in Jakarta and is offering a venue for socializing.

Even if you yourself do not observe Ramadan, perhaps your loved ones, elders or caregivers are fasting during this month.   It is important to note that the elderly do not have to fast.  According to the Emirates Home Nursing Senior Care Service, “The Quran exempts sick people from the duty of fasting – Muslims with chronic diseases may not perceive themselves as sick and are eager to fast.”  Diabetes, high blood pressure and heart problems are common ailments which increase health risks during fasting.   Find out if any of the elderly in your community will be fasting and offer guidance and support.

The holiday this year spans from around July 20 to August 19. (These dates vary from country to country depending on traditions, the lunar calendar, and by region.)

Celebrating or not, take this opportunity to connect with the elderly in your community.

1er plat de ramadan

Traditional Ramadan Feast [Photo Credit: amekinfo, Flickr]

With a life expectancy of 82.9 years for women and 79.4 years for men, one of the highest in the world, and a comprehensive health-care system, Icelanders are setting a good example for the rest of us.  Icelanders credit their many geothermal pools and spas with longevity and swimming is even given as a mandatory course in many primary schools to help embed this practice in their culture.

I recently visited Iceland and its many natural baths and health spas.  In a country where everything is fueled by geothermal gas, Iceland boasts countless geothermal pools and hot-pots.  The most famous of these, the Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik, allows you to sample mud masks, creams and skin care products while you lounge in the bright blue glacier water.

Many visitors to the Blue Lagoon are pensioner tourists who come to take advantage of the medicinal benefits and relax in the pool.

It’s hard to say whether the baths are the answer to living longer in Iceland, but many of the Day Care facilities for seniors continue to encourage the use of pools and even offer free entry for residents aged 67 and above. Aside from offering health benefits, the pools also serve as a place of socializing and help prevent loneliness among seniors.

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik, Iceland

This tradition of bath houses as medicine is not a new phenomenon.  Other cultures share in these traditions. In Russian tradition, it is widely believed that the steam bath has positive effects on the skin, lungs, nasal passages, joints and metabolism.  Veniki (brooms made out of leaves) are used in the baths to improve circulation.

In Arab communities, the hammam has been hailed as a source for relieving stress, relaxing muscles, easing respiratory problems and improving the skin.

Medical Symbol Vector

Credit: vectorportal, Flickr

For a significant number of caregivers, their religion is intrinsically tied to their practice. For others, spiritual concerns arise from the patients seeking solace.  The University of Chicago, a world renowned medical institute, has created a Program on Medicine and Religion, a unique blend of theology and clinical care. From May 23 – May 25, 2012 the program held a conference in Chicago, USA, “Responding to the Call of the Sick: Religious Traditions and Health Professions Today”, much of which touched on palliative and hospice care.

The conference sought to reach a wide audience including physicians, nurses, clinical care professionals, scholars and other health care experts on an array of topics within religion, ethics, science and the practice of care.  Speakers came from around the world including Israel, Jordan, and Malaysia.

While addressing contemplations of the interplay between religion and medicine from a more academic perspective, the conference did surface some important questions for practitioners to consider: how do we balance practical care and faith?  How should caregivers respond to address spiritual concerns of patients?  These questions can help caregivers be more knowledgeable about how their work can affect their patient and equip them for challenges they may face in their work.

While we may not have the answers, Manya A. Brachear, a Chicago Tribune Reporter, shares experiences of caregivers’ contact with spirituality in their practice. The program’s latest project, titled Project on a Good Physician, will take on the moral and ethical questions of what makes a good physician. 

Please share your experiences and insights as well, right here on our blog.

Happy birthday to GERATEC (Gerontological Research Training Education and Caring), a member of IAHSA, which just turned “sweet 16”!

Under the direction of Margaret Van Zyl, Director of Strategic Partnerships at GERATEC and board member of IAHSA, the organization is well on its way to re-model long-term care in South Africa. Using values of integrity, innovation and “person-centered care”, they are transforming under-resourced homes in isolated rural areas, in a land with few resources but a huge heart. 

Margie Van Zyl getting to know the residents at Emseni Old Age Home in rural KwaZulu Natal, South Africa

Van Zyl is now working on the formation of the South African Care Forum, a not-for-profit, that will build a reputation for quality and best practice in long-term care.  It will influence policy making; be involved in advocacy and lobbying; become a clearinghouse for information, research and best practice; focus on networking and partnerships; and be involved in encouraging research and product development.

A recent success was the transformation of Ekuphumleni Old Age Home in Gugulethu which went from complete lack of maintenance and absence of progress to organized leadership, community involvement and a functional facility.  With the help of the Department of Social Development, GERATEC created a garden, an Eku Boutique, an interactive lounge and personalized living quarters for the residents.

We are very excited about GERATEC’s latest projects: 

  • The establishment of the Eden Alternative South Africa at the end of last year, with Rayne Stroebel, the Eden Alternative SA Coordinator
  • The development of Huis Ina Rens, the first small Green House in South Africa for people living with dementia
  • The ongoing administration and running of Ekuphumleni that was struggling with exploitation, corruption and lack of care.

Residents at the Emseni old age home at Rorkes Drift in KwaZulu Natal

IAHSA is pleased to announce that we have received Arcadia as our first Peruvian member. A full service CCRC, the facility is currently under construction and will open in March of 2013. As a functioning property, the home will have a total of 100 apartments that are available to couples and singles; residents will have access to a pool, garden, communal barbeque area, as well as recreational programming. “Our goal is to have a first class CCRC right here in Lima,” said one of the founding business partners, Augusto Elias. “For a long time in Peru, residences for the elderly have been seen in a negative light. Our goal at Arcadia is to give seniors a wonderful place to call home with access to all to supportive services they need to maintain optimal wellbeing.”

Persons interested in learning more are encouraged to visit the website or email arcadia@arcadia.pe

Rendering courtesy of Arcadia Residencias Para La Tercera Edad.

In Australia, as in many other countries, there are many people under 60 who live in nursing homes, which are not suited to their needs.  Aged care facilities are not designed or resourced to facilitate the active involvement of young people with high clinical needs in everyday activities or support their continued participation in the life of their community.

This is the findings of a white paper entitled Young People in Nursing Homes recently released by Monash University and the Summer Foundation in Australia.   The white paper describes this population as one of the most marginalised and isolated groups of people in society and calls for action by the government to resolve the issue.

Has this issue been studied in your country?  Please share your thoughts and information with our readers.

According to Russia’s most recent census, Russians of retirement age are the fastest growing demographic group in that country.  Yet, as highlighted in a special report by RT, in country where aged care has traditionally been taken on by families, being placed in a nursing home is often associated with stigma and shame.  As a result, while many Western societies have seen a gradual shift towards viewing retirement as enjoyable and active, many Russians view retirement “as the gloomiest, loneliest and, in economic terms, the least secure years of life.” In fact, the report states that “[g]etting older is one of the four biggest fears in Russian society, on a par with worries over terrorism, natural disasters and crime.” It adds that “[p]eople are apprehensive about aging because of the associated health problems, poverty, loss of dignity and loneliness.”

A program developed in the Siberia region of Kurgan, however, is being observed by throughout Russia as a tool with the potential to address the needs of both older and younger Russians.  Noting that many older residents lacked the means with which to support themselves and that a number of younger residents felt a need for the “advice and company” of a grandmother, regional leaders developed an “Adopt a Granny” program.  Through the program, seniors are adopted by young local families who support them financially.  The families receive both government payments and the opportunity to host a senior in their homes in return.  The program is thus seen as allowing for the elderly to be provided for by a family, without going through the social stigma of being placed in a nursing home that they cannot afford.

Take a few minutes to watch the RT report below and share your thoughts on this program with IAHSA.  Can this model be replicated elsewhere? Do you know of similar programs in your region? Can this program provide for the full needs of these seniors or would a Western-style nursing home better serve their needs?   What lessons can other societies learn from this program?

For more information:

RT

An interesting social experiment is being conducted this week by the British foundation Friends of the Elderly (FOTE).  Noting that over one million of the United Kingdom’s elderly live in isolation and that one in five older people in the UK see other people less than once a week, FOTE put together a one-week public experiment called Isolation Week.  The goal of this event is to  increase social awareness about the many implications of isolated living.

Throughout this week, 10 young and social members of the public are being invited to live under conditions which simulate the lives of isolated seniors.  To do this, FOTE has confined the participants to their own homes, without any human contact and with only the TV, radio and limited-access internet (no social media sites) for company.  The participants are also being asked to use “empathy tools”, special equipment such as gloves and vision-impairing glasses, that help them experience the physical effects of ageing.

The daily thoughts, experiences and frustrations of the 10 participants are being documented on the Isolation Week website, though daily blog postings and video diaries.  Participants are also sharing their experiences through one-way Twitter feeds.  So far, the participants have expressed frustration at the difficulty of carrying out daily tasks with the empathy tools, boredom and a feeling of a lack of purpose.  The feeling echo those of isolated seniors in the UK (see video below).

Take a few minutes to browse through the Isolation Week website and share your thoughts with IAHSA.  Do the participant’s feelings surprise you? How are they different/similar to what you would expect?  What steps can be taken to address the isolation of seniors?

For more information:

BBC News

Isolation Week

A recent piece in the United States’ National Public Radio (NPR) highlights the most recent album release by Jamaican group The Jolly Boys.  The group, made up entirely of septuagenarians, is best known for playing mento, “a bawdy style of party music” that is similar, but preceded, “Jamaica’s more famous musical export, reggae.”  However, NPR notes that the new album’s “main attraction … is hearing the tried-and-true fare of aging rockers covered by still more aging Jamaican troubadours.”

The Jolly Boys have been performing together for more than  six decades and attest to the fact that talent does not disappear with age.  Take a few minutes to watch a short video on their story and their latest single, a rendition of Amy Winehouse’sRehab,” below.  As always, we look forward to reading your thoughts.

About this blog

IAHSA’s Global Ageing Network Blog was created because of you!! We got your message loud and clear – “Provide us with a quick and nimble communications vehicle so we can stay connected and create community across borders".

Questions? Email us at iahsa@leadingage.org.

Authors

Virginia Nuessle, Study Tour Director

Majd Alwan, Director, CAST

Alla Rubinstein, Program Administrator, IAHSA

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