The aging population is a worldwide issue that many countries are struggling to deal with. Elderly patients who are suffering from rapidly deteriorating health issues form a large percentage of the MEDLIFE follow-up patient list. In much of the developed world, residential homes guarantee the amenity, stability and care people need in their old age. However, this is not a comfort that impoverished families in the slums of Lima can afford. In Peru, the leading causes of death among people over 65 are untreated infections, influenza and pneumonia. More often than not, these deaths come about due to neglect and isolation suffered by elderly patients who are unable to access the healthcare they require.
It can be easy to overlook these patients as their suffering is often less shocking as it is something people are familiar with all over the world. Aging is, after all, a natural process that happens to everyone and is always difficult to face. However, the real issue here is the condition the patients have to endure as a result of their poverty. Without any real pension, medication and therapy cannot be paid for and so these patients become resigned to spending weeks at a time alone in their rooms. Rooms without windows, corrugated iron roofs that let in all the elements and lumpy mattresses that cause discomfort and bed sores. For these patients, sitting outside and feeling the sun on their faces is a rarity.
Ediberta Malpartida and Eulogio Orcottma Cardenas are examples of this suffering. Aged 88 and 79 respectively, both have been MEDLIFE patients for over a year and both have spent almost the entirety of that time in isolation. Jimena Torres, who lives with Edilberta, explained how “she doesn’t walk for fear of falling over; she can’t bathe herself, she can’t cook for herself, she can’t do anything on her own.”
Being immobilized and bedridden often then leads to other health issues. Lack of movement and basic exercises can result in muscle deterioration and infections. Whereas in developed countries, these conditions are relatively easy to recover from, here in Peru it is not so simple. Hospitals are often only a short bus ride away, but taking that journey can cost up to s/3.50 which is an expense many are unable to pay. Furthermore, once at the hospital, it is unlikely treatment will be given straight away thus incurring the need for more travel. This means more money wasted and more tiresome journeys that these patients struggle to make.
Eulogio has been bedridden since arriving at his son’s house in Lima last year. He suffers from arthritis and bladder obstruction and more recently has been losing sensation in his left side. MEDLIFE has been providing him with medication and medical visits and is now funding therapy to help him regain his mobility.
One of the most important processes for the elderly is to keep up basic exercise and movement. Having a walker to enable travel around the house or a wheelchair for outside access can make all the difference to these people. Furthermore, doctors visits and therapy sessions are crucial to keep track of a patient’s progress and make sure they are not deteriorating or becoming isolated. MEDLIFE is keen to invest in therapy and equipment that can enable patients to take part in much needed exercises to strengthen their muscles and rebuild their health. Such equipment is often cheap to buy for the charity and can provide significant improvements to the quality of life of the patients.
Following the support given by MEDLIFE, both Eulogio and Ediberta are in much better health compared with last year though their treatments have been very simple. As of January, following an MRI scan Eulogio has been put into a rehabilitation therapy programme in his home supported by MEDLIFE. He is being given painkillers and MEDLIFE are now trying to get him therapy sessions at Hospital de la Humanidad, which is at the bottom of his street, now he is able to get there. Ediberta is being given the medication she needs to make her more comfortable and make the living situation easier for the friends taking care of her.
Old age is never easy to confront, least of all for the elderly. However, even a little bit more comfort and mobility can make a world of difference. For patients like Ediberta and Eulogio, just having medication to stop them from being in constant pain getting the therapy they need to be able to move from their beds can improve their quality of life. With such a vast number of MEDLIFE follow up patients being over the age of 65, it is hugely important that we are able to fund the support these people need to live normal and healthy lives.