Cyprus does not have enough trained professionals specialising in elderly care and treatment, the health ministry’s technical committee on old age said on Tuesday after submitting a draft of its national strategy for the health of the elderly.
Drafted in collaboration with workshop participants, the strategy is now with all involved agencies for study and submission suggestions.
The draft identified difficulties in the synchronisation of government services dealing with the health of the elderly and insufficient at-home care, and pointed out the need to allocate more time to elderly patients at health centres, especially in rural areas.
It also emphasised the need to support the elderly in matters of technology which, in addition to its contribution to the socialisation of the individual, will also help cover any gaps created after the implementation of health scheme Gesy, which relies on an electronic system for data recording and informing patients.
“The support of healthy ageing through home care is achieved through the education of home caregivers, based on scientific training programmes but also through the education of domestic helpers, aiming at the quality of the services offered and the safety of the caregivers,” the draft said.
At the same time, it said a mechanism for the general supervision of caregivers is needed for the implementation of correct practices, and that the autonomy of the elderly must be preserved throughout these processes.
The draft said there is a need for comprehensive research, continuous training and proper information of the medical community, nurses and caregivers, but also relief from informal caregivers and recognition of the care provided by relatives/friends.
This includes promoting and certifying the caregiver profession while also offering education about dementia to health professionals through training programmes and postgraduate degrees for nurses, carers and others.
A large gap was also identified in language learning as many caregivers may not speak Greek, and the lack of proper training for foreign caregivers who are often not trained in the right specialty or are unable to recognise signs and symptoms, and have no resources for getting the right training.
The strategy “sets as a basis the preservation and improvement of the health of the elderly through four strategic axes: prevention, promotion of healthy ageing, friendly environment, research and education”.
In terms of prevention, examples given were ways to promote physical activity and actions in the areas of heart disease, nutrition and osteoporosis, which could be implemented while simultaneously increasing the number of geriatricians available and offering services in Cyprus.
Another notable example was bad oral hygiene, which as the draft pointed out “is important for overall health and wellbeing”.
Based on official data, 40 per cent of the elderly have not visited a dentist in the last year, about 19 per cent have untreated tooth decay, and 70 per cent have periodontal disease.
“Poor oral health can negatively impact nutrition and the proper management of chronic conditions, which require more specially trained nursing staff working with a primary care physician or geriatrician”.
A good practice suggested is to run “chronic care clinics” where patients with the same disease are educated in groups. “This approach may, for example, help patients with diabetes achieve better glucose control”.