Providing support to the elderly

Providing support to the elderly


By Dr MOHD FAIRUZ ALI

SUPPORT is important to maintain a good quality of life, especially for the elderly. As people age, they develop deficits in certain areas, such as health and physical function. This normally results in them needing help or becoming dependent on others for their daily activities. Therefore, providing appropriate support is vital in ensuring that they have a safe and a more meaningful life.

There are many ways and types of support that can be provided to the elderly. These can be broken down to physical, psychological and social support; all of which are equally important, however they may be required at different levels, depending on the individual’s needs.

Physical support means providing physical assistance so that they are able to function and perform daily activities. Ensuring adequate physical support is very important especially in caring for the disabled or debilitated elderly with various medical conditions.

It can range from helping them carry their shopping bags to something more challenging like transferring a disabled elderly from the bed to the chair. As for the latter, the caregivers should learn the correct techniques from medical experts to avoid injuring themselves during the process.

The availability of physical support or assistance is vital to determine if one can live independently, where safety within their own homes is assured.

This issue becomes more relevant, especially if the elderly are living separately from their children. Under certain circumstances they need to hire a helper or they may need to be placed in assisted living facilities such as nursing homes with trained helpers.

In addition to physical support, providing psychological and social support should also be emphasised as the elderly are at higher risk of developing psychological and mental-related illnesses such as depression and anxiety.

This is more apparent when they undergo the empty nest syndrome or go through loneliness when their loved ones leave home.

In this day and age, the involvement of family members in caring for the elderly has become a challenge. Family members find it hard to contribute their time and commitment towards providing continuous support.

There needs to be co-ordination and contribution among family members to provide support, which must be mutually agreed upon to avoid any internal family discord.

An old Malay proverb mentions that a mother can take care of her many children, but there are no guarantees that all her children will care for her when she is ill or needy.

Hence alternatives should be put in place for them to compensate for these losses, such as turning to other individuals, like close friends or even a personal helper who can offer companionship and emotional support. Nevertheless, with the communication technology available today, distance is no longer an obstacle to keeping in touch.

Apart from the above, financial support is extremely important, as being healthy in the advancing age comes with a heavy price tag. Being unemployed and having chronic illnesses creates a challenge for those who lack financial independence.

Having financial stability, to a certain extent, determines a good quality of life. Most no longer have a stable source of income and normally have to depend on their pension or savings to support their daily living expenses. These may not be adequate, especially for those living in the urban areas.

In developing countries, and in Malaysia particularly, where contribution to social health insurance is not mandatory, healthcare can be a heavy burden to the elderly who lack financial support. Many rely on their children but some may need financial aid from other sources, for example the Department of Social Welfare or other social agencies.

In the elderly populations, especially from the Asian region, culture and religion play an integral part in one’s life and most actions are closely related to their spiritual beliefs. For this reason, the elderly may require some form of spiritual support especially those with terminal illness or those at the end stage of their life.

Having spiritual support will help them cope with their disease and may also contribute to their mental and psychological wellbeing. These factors are imperative in determining health as defined by the World Health Organisation.

Providing spiritual support can be done by referring them to a clergy member or just by advising them to be involved in religious group activities, based on their beliefs and cultural background.

Striking a balance to provide support for the elderly can be challenging for most caregivers. Nevertheless it is achievable if awareness on their needs and some advanced pre-planning is done.

Dr Mohd Fairuz Ali is a lecturer and family medicine specialist at the Department of Family Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Hospital Canselor Tuanku Mukhriz, Cheras. His area of interest includes working with patient support groups and community outreach programmes.

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