[WATCH] Tackling dementia is government's priority, Agius Decelis says

Parliamentary Secretary for Active Ageing Anthony Agius Decelis said that there was no crisis in the ageing sector in terms of elderly on waiting lists for admission into care homes 

Nationalist Party MP Stephen Spiteri (left) and Parliamentary Secretary for Active Ageing Anthony Agius Decelis (right) on Xtra
Nationalist Party MP Stephen Spiteri (left) and Parliamentary Secretary for Active Ageing Anthony Agius Decelis (right) on Xtra

The government has a holistic strategy for tackling increasing cases of dementia and that dementia is very high on the government's priority list, Parliamentary Secretary for Active Ageing Anthony Agius Decelis said.

By 2050, the Maltese government foresees that 14,000 people will be afflicted with dementia and a further 60,000 people will be affected indirectly by the disease.

"The Maltese government is passing out informative flyers about the disease, a play is being enacted in town squares to raise awareness, and for the first time this year, we have passed out awards to people in the public health sphere who have worked with dementia in one way or another," Agius Decelis said, adding that the World Health Organisation had praised Malta's dementia strategy.

Speaking on TVM's Xtra on Thursday, Agius Decelis added that the government was broadcasting an informative programme in 13 episodes on dementia on TVM, since by 2050, he said, dementia would have reached a peak and is likely to directly affect 14,000 individuals.

"We are offering a Master's degree on dementia for the very first time and have created a course for non-medical carers to help them handle patients with dementia, all the while offering sponsorships to students," Agius Decelis said.

Nationalist Party MP and doctor Stephen Spiteri argued that dementia is the aftermath of people living longer lives, bringing with it associated diseases and illnesses that creep in at a later stage of one's life.

"We have an elderly population that is constantly growing. Traditionally, the elderly were cared for by relatives and daughters. Today, so many women are going to work and their mind is on their work. The social fabric has changed so that elderly people are now under constant pressure to be institutionalised," Spiteri said. 

He lamented that some residential homes were of a high quality but others were very much inferior. What is common between the two, he argued, is that most often carers are foreign, which creates communication barriers. 

"Let's make sure that the communication aspect of care exists with dignity and sincerity," he said.

Agius Decelis countered by saying that the government was facing this issue on three fronts. "A Maltese for foreigners course for every carer is obligatory, we are also holding cultural classes for foreign carers and now every carer needs to be licensed," he said, adding that the government was working on regularising this sector.

There is no crisis in this sector

"I don't think there's a crisis in this sector. There's no crisis because the government is continuously investing in this sector," Agius Decelis said, commenting on the increasing number of elderly people on the waiting list for admission into residential homes.

READ ALSO: Over 2,500 elderly on waiting list for admission into retirement homes

Agius Decelis said that Malta catered for 116,000 elderly people over 60 years of age and that every one of these could apply for admission to care homes.

"The waiting list currently consists of around 2,300 people, but the number of those people who truly need urgent care is around 260 people. Most of these are already at Karin Grech hospital or Mater Dei hospital getting the care they need," he said. 

He added that a multi-disciplinary team conducts an interview with every applicant so that each applicant is split into one of three categories. The first category includes people who need urgent care and treatment. 

"We don't just randomly send people to St Vincent de Paule, for example, because this only applies to elderly people in the first category, otherwise we would be wasting resources since St Vincent de Paule offers medical care and specialised treatment," he said.

"I think the government's strategy is sustainable. As much as possible, we consider institutionalisation as a last resort and we don't buy beds from private residential homes willy-nilly. This year alone, we bought 450 beds because we needed them. 

Up until 2015, there was a set of recommendations that every residential home had to follow. Family Minister Michael Falzon and myself have set up the Standards Authority where these recommendations have become law. Every residential home has to follow these guidelines. All stakeholders are now meeting to discuss these recommendations for revision. In January, we will launch another public consultation," Agius Decelis said.

He insisted that the Standards Authority conducted 260 random checks at several residential homes across Malta. Everything from minimal complaints to staff-to-client ratio is investigated, he said, adding that every patient is entitled by law to 2.4 hours of care per day and 0.4 hours, or 20 minutes, of medical care per day.