Current Affairs NGOs launch campaign to improve quality of life for the elderly
October 1st has been designated as International Day of Older Persons by the UN General Assembly. This year Czech NGOs are using the occasion to raise awareness of the vast divide between the life that elderly people want and the reality they often have to come to terms with. A campaign called Live at Home Longer is targeted both at elderly people and their families who make life-shaping decisions for them.
This year’s UN theme for International Day of Older Persons is “The future we want: what older persons are saying”. A poll conducted among the elderly in this country has a clear answer: nine out of ten elderly Czechs would like to live out their lives in their home, in familiar surroundings close to their family and friends. The reality is such that nine out of ten elderly Czechs die in institutionalized care - in hospitals for the elderly or old age homes. According to the staff of these institutions a third of them need not be there if they had more support and better care at home. The campaign to keep more elderly people in their home environment for as long as possible was launched by the NGO Life 90 in cooperation with Charter 77.
Michaela Sladka from Life 90 says that the main problem is a lack of information about the support network available for the elderly.
“We have 15 types of services they can use which would help them stay in their home and the main problem is that people do not have the information –so that is what we want to change. Sometimes you just need to have a little extra help every day from a care service or something like that. The care service is great because you can chose precisely at what time and how often you are going to get help from another person. The caretaker will come to your home and help you with the shopping, with cooking your food, cleaning your apartment, he/she can accompany you on a walk or take you to the doctor.”
Every year around 40,000 thousand seniors have to make the painful decision to leave their home and move to a facility for the elderly – or the decision is made for them by their relatives who feel unable to provide the care they need. In many cases people resign on their lives after that and such institutions are often described as a waiting room for death. A recent poll among the elderly revealed that the majority fear loneliness far more than they fear poverty. Experts in geriatric care say that elderly people who live at home longer are mentally and physically in far better shape than those who end up in institutions. The face of this campaign 92-year-old Frantiska Garlikova who lives alone in her Prague flat is proof of that – she has a helper coming in daily and an electronic monitoring device in her flat which would send out an emergency signal should she have an accident. So how costly are the services that enable her to live the life she wants? Monika Sladka says they are affordable.
“The state contributes towards care for the elderly and the amount you get depends on how much care you need. So the services we offer can be covered by this financial support from the state. And the services really are available. I think money is not the real issue here.”
The fact that more people end up in old age homes than is strictly necessary has resulted in a shortage of these facilities. Even with 500 old age homes around the country there are usually long waiting lists of applicants for a place in these institutions – paradoxically, since few people actually want to go there. Moreover the country’s fast aging population will soon exacerbate the problem. Private companies have now stepped in to fill the gap on the market. Recently an entrepreneur who could not find a place for his parents in an old age home built a village for seniors – small brick houses with a patch of garden where people can avail themselves of the services of a cleaner, gardener and someone to do their weekly shopping. The story generated plenty of publicity and NGOs are hoping that as more alternatives open up for the elderly senior citizens will gradually start living the life they want instead of coming to terms with what they now believe to be an inevitable part of old age – clinical surroundings and loneliness with no hope of change for the better.