Elderly persons face a myriad of challenges including lack of access to medical services, food and shelter. The elderly are faced with medical challenges like dementia, cataracts, diabetes, hypertension, cancer hence the need for age-friendly services. There is need to mobilize resources, engage community members and develop policies to safeguard the rights of the elderly.
Palliative Care is a holistic service accorded to patients and families faced with serious health suffering due to illnesses like cancer, HIV/AIDS, organ failure, congenital anomalies, stroke, hypertension, diabetes among others. It is accorded to children and adults including the elderly. Palliative care aims at improving quality of life and helps the patient live as actively as possible. Kenya Hospices and Palliative Care Association (KEHPCA) is the national association, advocating for and supporting integration of palliative care services in Kenya.
On 27th July 2019, KEHPCA team was invited to participate in a medical camp organized by Mama Ibado Foundation, a charitable organization that offers care and support to the less privileged in the community of Isiolo County in Kenya, with a goal of creating sustainable development in the region. Isiolo is a marginalized region with limited economic activities like pastoral, subsistence agricultural and small scale trade.
Mama Ibado organized, mobilized and coordinated the event that brought together over 100 volunteers, including health care professionals. Over 1000 elderly patients were served; majority had illnesses that require palliative care and pain control. Other than health care support, the very needy were given food stuffs and medical referrals were done as appropriate. The very sick who were unable to travel to the medical camp site necessitated planning for home visits which were conducted by the camp teams.
“My mother is getting to 90 years and she is bedridden, not able to feed well and she is always complaining of pain. Am taking care of her all alone since my siblings have left us” said one of the care givers during home visit.
The home visit took us to the home of an elderly retired man with a supportive family but felt like he was a burden to his wife and children. We spoke with him affirming that it is normal to have such feelings. The family members equally expressed that they felt indebted to care for their father. This left him and his family with smiles on their faces. “Asanteni kwa kunitembelea” (Thank you for visiting me) he said. Sometimes the elderly just need someone to spend time with them and not just provide for them financially.
The medical camp enabled the KEHPCA team to gain a deep insight on the challenges faced by the elderly and will use this information to advocate for better recognition on the rights of the elderly. Some of the challenges identified include; financial hardship, abandonment, unmet medical needs, abuse and weakening body systems. KEHPCA continues to work with Helpage Kenya and other like minded organizations to advance palliative care services for the elderly through education & training as well as guidelines development.
Remember, everyday you wake up a day older than yesterday.
Author: Dr Asaph Kinyanjui