Older persons have an increased demand for comprehensive health care and other services that are not always available and accessible to them, writes FAHMIDA HARRIS.
AS people age, they are entitled to enjoy a healthy, safe and fulfilling life where they actively participate in their communities. However, older persons have a higher risk of ill health and disability originating from chronic non-communicable diseases, such as hypertension and diabetes. They are also more prone to falls, and sometimes face challenges with vision and hearing.
In addition, many older persons experience poverty and poor social support – challenges that are worsened by a lack of infrastructure in their communities – often leading to their loneliness and isolation. As a result of these many challenges, older persons have an increased demand for comprehensive health care and other services that are not always available and accessible to them.
Anas ibn Malik narrated that the Prophet (SAW) said: ‘If a young man honours an elderly on account of his age, Allah appoints someone to honour him in his old age.’ While keeping this in mind, it is therefore appropriate to create awareness and improve the quality of life of our elders by shining the spotlight on a very valuable community service.
Service centres for older persons are community resources that do not enjoy the attention that they deserve. Often also referred to as ‘clubs for the elderly’, these centres offer many benefits to our ageing populations, and aim to assist older persons in maintaining their independence in communities.
Service centres promote both physical health and psychological well-being by providing the older person with opportunities for recreation, socialisation, nutrition (in the form of meals), religious activities and access to vital social services. Specific health programmes focus on health and fitness, physical activity, exercise and screening for chronic non-communicable diseases. It has also been highlighted that attendance at these centres satisfy social needs, thus improving friendships and minimising stress levels, which in turn contributes to the older persons’ positive perception of their own general health and well-being.
Service centres, unlike old age homes, are non-residential, and therefore services are provided by either paid or voluntary caregivers in different settings within the community, such as churches, mosques and community halls. Members will come to or are allowed access to these services that are only available certain hours of the day (as prescribed by each centre), and then return home on the same day. Some centres may provide transport to its members, making accessibility easier.
Before coming under major threat with closure during the COVID pandemic, service centres were already experiencing challenges to the sustainability of their services. In a research study conducted by Harris (2018), it was reported that lack of physical and financial resources, as well as staffing and the absence of training for managers, were major concerns. This impacted on the amount and types of services that could be provided to communities. However, it was identified that these centres can serve as excellent venues for professionals and healthcare workers to introduce their knowledge and skills to members, and bring a valuable perspective to the ageing network.
Older persons should be acknowledged and recognised for their invaluable contributions to our society. It is thus important that we care for them in a way that enhances their quality of life and keep them integrated in our communities. Since most service centres are registered with and affiliated to the Department of Social Development (some are private ‘clubs’), we can assist our elders to access these valuable resources at https://www.westerncape.gov.za/directories/facilities/859
To gain a better understanding of the self-reported aspirations of community-dwelling older persons in the Western Cape, access to an interesting article is shared in the following link: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329515097
- Fahmida Harris is a physiotherapist, and senior clinical educator at the University of Cape Town.