The Malta Independent 25 September 2022, Sunday
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Giving priority to independent living within the community

Monday, 12 September 2022, 11:15 Last update: about 13 days ago

Jo Etienne Abela

Maintaining a healthy independent life within one's own community is a key factor for holistic well-being at older age. Living with your loved ones, remaining active, and feeling valued and appreciated for the contributions within one's community are essential elements for one's wellbeing.

The Ministry for Active Ageing wants to provide the necessary tools and services so that we can help old people achieve this aim and continue living in the community. Our vision must centre on this concept, that has to also include the support we have to give to informal carers and relatives of old people.

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Our main strategy is thus centred around promoting independent living and promoting participation in society. We must provide further support to informal carers of older persons whilst also supporting initiatives that facilitate the creation of age-friendly and dementia-friendly communities and services. Our aim should be to maximise autonomy in long-term care.  

One also has to acknowledge the reality that, despite all efforts, there are situations where old people cannot, however, continue living in the community. We thus have to continue investing in order to offer high quality care in residential homes. The emphasis here is to provide a holistic approach to care, where the medical and social aspects are taken into consideration in an equal manner so that dignity and quality of life continue to be guaranteed at the highest level.  The drive is not only to continue providing residential care to match the demand, but also to provide the level of quality care, both as regards services as well as infrastructure, that such persons deserve to have.       

In order to achieve our main aim for older people to remain active and healthy in the community and enjoy a very good quality of life, we provide twenty-four services in the community. These services take a holistic care approach, where some services are of a medical nature, while others are designed to support the social challenges that are encountered at this age. Some services also address the respite needs of informal carers, and other services tackle lifelong learning and mobility. It is imperative that all facets of care and support are adequately addressed in order to provide this holistic 360-degree support to the old person and his or her relatives. 

Mobility of residents within their own community fosters better socialisation and in turn reduces marginalisation and combats loneliness in older life. The Silver-T community transport service is granting better access to services within the community so that older persons can remain active, without becoming dependent on other persons. This service also provides physical support to informal carers in maintaining their responsibilities for caring for older persons. Positive impacts of this service include the promotion of older persons' well-being, the encouragement of their autonomy and freedom, and the strengthening of the social and psychological attributes for healthy living. In fact, it is scientifically proven that living within one's own community enhances the quality of life of older persons.  The aim is that this service, after gradual expansion throughout the past months, is now expanded nationwide in all Malta and Gozo.  

With the collaboration of local councils and other stakeholders, more day centres and university of third age centres will open so that we continue addressing lifelong learning, solitude, and active ageing. In our strategy, these centres will also form an integral part of our expanding intergenerational initiatives that are so important to help transmit values and experience between different generations.

Outreach services will continue being developed and introduced. After the introduction of such clinics in Mtarfa and Mellieħa, such a service for old people will soon start in Gozo, where, in a multidisciplinary setup, a myriad of community services will be provided.  

Dementia will continue to have a special focus in our strategy. Through the work that has been done in recent years, Malta is already at the forefront in the provision of holistic care for people with dementia and their care givers. Now another big step will be taken with the setting up of a dedicated dementia directorate that will engage more professionals specialised in this field. Research in this field, that is so lacking, will also be encouraged through various means, so that Malta remains at the forefront in care provision in this field. 

Without awareness, services will not reach those who need it most. Information about the sterling services being provided needs to be exposed more to the general public and healthcare professionals. In this manner, our clients can access the community support that they require in the specific individual circumstances that they are facing. A strong drive to advertise our services to all stakeholders will be undertaken in order to achieve our goal.

Provision of community services is a top priority so that older persons can live within the community as much as possible and without having the need to resort to residential care services. Translating this paradigm into practice, it is important to look at this issue dynamically and ensure that all needs are being catered for through a continuum of essential and dynamic services. The Ministry for Active Ageing is committed to continue developing such services for the benefit of our old age population living in the community.

Jo Etienne Abela is the Minister for Active Ageing 

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