Strengthening person-centred care
I met Carmel, affectionately known as Nenu, at one of our residences. He was patiently looking at his tablet waiting for a Skype call from one of his daughters. He’s the first to admit that getting to know how the gadget works took some time. But at the end of the tedious process, he could communicate with his family every day at different hours.
Looking at Nenu from an outsider’s perspective, one might see an elderly gentleman with quite some time to spare. However, a closer look will reveal a person with a lifetime of experiences, and a mix of skill and emotions. Really and truly, Nenu represents our loved ones, our parents, our grandparents.
During my years at the helm of CareMalta, I had the opportunity to get acquainted with persons normally referred to as elderly people. Physically speaking, this is a correct term. However, today I give more value to the “elderly” part. Just like the actual meaning of the Maltese “Xiħ” today, more than ever, I acknowledge the wealth of knowledge and life experiences an elderly person has to offer. Sometimes all it takes is one question to uncover the youthful elderly.
This is why I am more and more determined to make sure that all stakeholders realise that it’s not just about providing the elderly with a place where to stay, but one where to live life. This is also why we invited all stakeholders to a seminar organized by the Caremalta Academy. I feel that challenging the institutionalization mindset is a must, especially in such a small community like ours.
We need to seriously reflect on whether current practices place the human element before anything else, thus respecting dignity and life itself.
The seminar brought together people who are active with elderly people throughout the year. This mixture of expertise allowed us to question the norm, and reflect on whether we are actually crossing the line by letting longevity take over quality of life.
This is a not an easy matter to discuss, since it presents a mix between ethical and emotional arguments. We all do our best to give our loved ones the best of care, even in moments when we know that life will eventually, and sadly, end. This happens with no second thoughts, sometimes at the risk of losing the purpose of life itself along the way. Thanks to the expertise of Professor Pierre Mallia, we challenged the norm, and ourselves, to think and discuss such matters, which, I have to say, is quite tough, but compassionate at the same time. Older persons who were present at the seminar had all the space to speak out and indeed provide an interesting perspective to the whole issue.
I feel that we need to realize that we actually live in a small country. This fact presents us with the luxury of thinking on a community level. Community services, if they are person-centred, make it possible for older persons to live in their own home for as long as possible. Living within their own community, as opposed to starting off from scratch in a new one, is definitely a preferred option. However, we need to ensure that if the time comes for them to make the transition from their own home to a residential or nursing home, they should find a place which considers their desires, values, family situations, social circumstances and lifestyles. It’s high time to see older people as individuals, that are given the opportunity to take part in decisions about their health and care and hence work together in order to develop appropriate solutions.
Needless to say, this requires trained professional and financial access to such services, perhaps through insurance covers.
Whatever the case, we are obliged to ensure that life keeps on being celebrated till the very end. This has to be looked at from a human perspective rather than an institutionalized one. I firmly believe that our our persons have much to offer within our community, and that we, as a community, have a duty to make sure that the older people’s voice is heard so that they are able to maintain their identity and keep on living life with dignity, respect and joy. Needless to say the respect for life goes beyond what the eyes can see what the ears can hear, and beyond the challenges that our society faces.
Natalie Briffa Farrugia is the CEO of Caremalta