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Our View: Treating the elderly people with dignity should be a given

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Twice in the past week there were reports related to the treatment of the elderly in public hospitals with the representatives of care homes saying the incidents that came to light were only a few among many such complaints.

The first one concerned an incident where patient organisations expressed outrage over allegations that an elderly person was found tied to their hospital bed using bedsheets. The second, at the end of the week was about a woman sent back in an ambulance to a care home from a hospital wearing only an adult diaper and a sheet in temperatures of less than 10C.

The first incident, without more information, cannot be entirely condemned. It is a common practice to restrain elderly patients to their beds depending on their physical and mental condition as they could hurt or kill themselves if they wandered around unsupervised. If it was done just to convenience staff, that’s another story.

According to the relative who filed the complaint, the patient was tied to the bed because they were anxious but the patients’ association said such a decision should require psychiatric evaluation. The incident needs to be fully investigated.

The second one should not have happened at all. It seems the staff could not find the woman’s clothes until after the care home called to complain following her return. They were eventually sent back bloody and dirty.

It’s logical that dressing the woman in dirty clothes would not have been ideal. However, you do not need to be a nurse to exercise a modicum of common sense. The elderly woman should have been sent back in her hospital gown and wrapped in a blanket, both of which could later have been returned.

Hospitals may be understaffed and overwhelmed this winter with the combination of Covid and the flu but there is no excuse to treat an elderly person like a piece of meat.

And it’s not just hospitals. Numerous stories have emerged of the treatment of the elderly even in care homes. Only a few months ago a 26-year-old caregiver was jailed for 12 years for raping a resident.

There is no way to tell how common elder abuse is in Cyprus because there is no mechanism to report it, according to an EU survey last year. Some NGOs involved in helping the elderly say that a helpline receives two calls per day, that’s over 700 a year.  Shouldn’t that be enough to get the ball rolling?

Two years ago, the cabinet announced a ‘red button’ programme for seniors. In case of emergency, wearers would be able to contact a coordination centre, available 24/7 and staffed by social workers, psychologists and trained volunteers. The plan as of late October was still sitting on the deputy minister for welfare’s desk.

At a time when MPs are debating a bill related to assisted dying, or ‘dying with dignity’ as it’s referred to, shouldn’t there also be discussion and action on helping people live with dignity?

 

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