Since the emergence of residential care facilities in New Zealand, the models of care have continued to change, but are they changing fast enough? The clinical needs of residents have escalated and so the way services are provided must also reflect a change in practice to meet changing resident needs. A common theme being reported among older member of our communities is that of isolation and depression. Isolation, according to the Collins dictionary relates to separation, withdrawal, loneliness and segregation.
I was fortunate to visit Greece recently which is reputed to have a larger proportion of older adults than most other EU countries. Gerontology is derived from the Greek words geron, “old man” and -logia, “study of” so it made sense to discuss models of care with families and health care professionals including pharmacists. I discovered there are few residential care services in Greece and those that do exist are found mostly in Athens rather than the islands. Families provide the majority of care with ‘family’ being noted as the key foundation to Greek society. Grandparents are frequently living within the extended family with the younger generations and taking responsibility for caring for their grandchildren. The economy is poor and social networks are heavily relied on to provide support.
From my observations, conversations with others, and literature, the older adults of Greece are kept actively engaged in the community. They are frequently involved in running family businesses if they are not relied on for supporting the needs of their children or grandchildren. Family networks remain strong and when interviewing people about how older adults will be cared for, the automatic assumption is that family will provide that service. Dr Elizabeth Mestheneos told me that approximately 1% of their older population may well be in residential homes. There are Open Care Community centres in virtually every Local Authority which are called KAPI. There are also Help at Home services and Day care centres in some Local authorities.
The models of care and workforce capacity currently in place in New Zealand are unlikely to meet increasing demands so change is needed. The aged care sector could lead change as new models are developed, trialed and advanced. Multiple studies confirm these new models need to include holistic, consumer directed services. Not only meeting physical needs but also social connections and the opportunity to be involved in meaningful activities that contribute to others. This also includes some use of technology to support connections with others. While they are of assistance to some, there is no substitute for human connection, person to person, face to face. The experience of ageing, social network supports, funding models and the context in which care and support are provided certainly differ from country to country.
In New Zealand residential care settings we have activities / recreational programmes which support inclusion and engagement. Being involved in meaningful activities are also key factors in contributing to a sense of well-being. I observed older adults in Greece undertaking meaningful activities in the community like feeding the communal cats of Kos or looking after grandchildren, continuing to run a second hand open-air shop to add to the family income or playing games with friends games. Groups of older men often congregated outside cafes for conversation, coffee and playing cards or board games. A Menzshed story reflects on how one New Zealand community are attempting to address the gap ageing can create in the life of some men. While funding is different in NZ to Greece and the family network is more often scattered geographically in New Zealand, there remains more opportunity to include community. The care setting could also be enhanced more by reflecting the smaller numbers of people we are used to living with in the family home, rather than the larger numbers in some care facilities. A model that more closely reflects the life patterns our community members have been used to, with them directing how these continue into the latter years of life with the goal of ageing in a healthy way, optimising body, brain and social networks.