‘Old age is not an illness’: how Dubai’s care centre is a majlis for the elderly

The centre has 27 patients as residents, while 75 are considered out-patients - it is the only nursing home in Dubai for the elderly.
Residents and outpatients at the Family Gathering Centre in the Mamzar area of Dubai enjoy the family feel of the centre. Lee Hoagland / The National
Residents and outpatients at the Family Gathering Centre in the Mamzar area of Dubai enjoy the family feel of the centre. Lee Hoagland / The National

DUBAI // All patients have their own requirements, but treating the elderly is particularly difficult.

That’s the opinion of experts at Dubai’s only nursing centre for older people, which, for the first time, opened its doors to The National last week.

In younger patients, a problem would be treated with no complications, said Dr Salwa Al Suwaidi, senior specialist registrar and director of the Family Gathering Centre.

With an elderly person, however, it is far more complicated – diagnosing problems is harder because they may not know what is wrong. Furthermore, the patient can be confused and may have several other conditions and possibly some social problems, she said. Some become antisocial and depressed and do not want to talk to anyone.

“They tend to forget. They would come with the same complaint every day and, regardless of what you do, they will forget that you solved the problem.

“Sometimes it is difficult to satisfy them and sometimes they are not in a good mood to speak.”

The centre, which runs a nursing home and day-care centre, is in Al Mamzar and has 27 resident patients while 75 are considered outpatients. It is the only nursing home in Dubai for the elderly.

A requirement for living at the centre is that a patient has no immediate family that can take care of them.

Asked why they do not admit those with direct relatives, Dr Al Suwaidi said: “The family is the number one caregiver for the elderly and we are helping the family – we are not replacing the family.”

Yet to many of the outpatients, the centre is like a second home.

Abdulaziz Al Ghassam, an outpatient who comes to the centre every day, said visiting makes him happy.

“If an elderly person sits at home, trouble comes to him and bad thoughts and worries and he gets sicker. If he comes here he sees people and laughs with them and he sees his friends,” said the 70-year-old Emirati.

He compared the centre to a majlis, where friends or family gather. He said those who do not have a majlis are often lost and unhappy.

“Everyone who comes is happy,” he said. “There is happiness and this is what a person looks for.”

Dr Al Suwaidi said: “They just come and listen to the staff reading the newspaper for them and chat. Because it is a family, it is not a formal place, we are not like a hospital.”

Still, the centre does offer a range of medical services.

Dr Al Suwaidi said the centre was the only nursing home for the elderly that has doctors specialised in this type of care.

Physiotherapy and occupational therapy are also available.

The most common diseases and illnesses the centre treats are known as non-communicable diseases, which include diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

Complications from these diseases, particularly diabetes, can lead to visual impairment and kidney failure.

Furthermore, osteoarthritis – especially in the knee – and strokes are common.

“But despite all of this, we cannot say that old age is equal to illness,” Dr Al Suwaidi said. “People can live longer and they can be healthy – it all depends on your lifestyle.

“We want our elderly to be active, to have a role in the community.”

Other ailments that are common among the elderly include Alzheimer’s and dementia.

The Government is working to improve care for the elderly.

Last Monday, the Cabinet approved the preparation of a federal law for their care. It will focus on safeguarding rights and the provision of care.

The Primary Health Care unit, part of the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), works closely with the Family Gathering Centre.

Dr Amal Aljaziri, the head of the elderly care unit at the DHA, said the care centre was important.

In some cases we see at the clinic they need some social interaction, or they need rehabilitation as outpatients, so we send them there, she said. Patients are primarily referred when they need to maintain their function. This includes being able to get dressed, eat and move around independently, she added.

nbakhsh@thenational.ae

Published: May 18, 2014 04:00 AM

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