Older people missing out on care and support at the end of life

Categories: Community Engagement.

Around 24 million adults require palliative care at the end of life each year, with 66% of these people aged over 60. The new estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO), were released today (12 October) ahead of World Hospice and Palliative Care Day (13 October).

With the theme ‘Living to the end – palliative care for an ageing population’, World Hospice and Palliative Care Day aims to draw attention to the growing need by highlighting that 42% of countries still have no identified hospice and palliative care service and 80% of people live in countries with little to no access to medication for the treatment of moderate to severe pain. 

This means millions of older people, especially in the developing world, are living and dying in unnecessary pain and distress.

This World Hospice and Palliative Care Day, the Worldwide Palliative Care Alliance (WPCA) is warning that an urgent response is needed to improve palliative care for older people and meet the growing needs of the world’s ageing populations.

To ensure all older people with life-limiting conditions are cared for with dignity and according to their wishes, the WPCA is calling for palliative care to be integrated into national and community health systems around the world. 

Dr John Beard, Director of the Department of Ageing and Life Course at WHO, said: 

“The main focus of health services is generally on preventing, curing or managing disease. But one of the things that is often neglected is providing quality care at the end of life. 

“Millions of people today die in needless suffering simply because they are denied access to appropriate pain relief and social support. This care is not expensive, and everyone has a right to it.”

There is often a misconception that palliative care is primarily for people with cancer. This is not true. The latest estimates from WHO show that older people with a range of conditions require palliative care and that in many disease groups the over 60s are the largest group in need. Globally, those in need of palliative care dying from Alzheimer and other dementias, Parkinson disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, nephritis and nephrosis and cancer are predominantly in the over 60s age group. 

David Praill, co-chair of the WPCA and chief executive of UK charity Help the Hospices, said:

“World Hospice and Palliative Care Day is a day of celebration for the progress that has been made in reducing pain and suffering. But it is also a day to shine a light on neglected or marginalised groups that are unable to get the care that they require. 

“It is totally unacceptable that older people, wherever they are based, are unable to access the care that they need to live and die with dignity and respect. With the rising incidence of non-communicable diseases and the ageing of the HIV pandemic, it is even more pressing that urgent action is taken.”

This World Hospice and Palliative Care Day 2012 thousands of people in around 60 countries are coming together at more than 1,000 events to celebrate, support and speak up about hospice and palliative care.

Many UK hospices are conducting events, including a ‘Voice for Hospice’ event in Cwmbran, an open afternoon at Lewis-Manning Hospice in Poole, Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice are holding ‘World Hospice and Palliative Care day: A Journey not a Destination’ and at The Butterfly Hospice in Boston they are having an event with the World Day theme ‘Living to the end: Palliative care for an ageing population’.

In the UK, national charity Help the Hospices coordinated Hospice Care Week (8–14 October) to coincide with World Hospice and Palliative Care Day. Hospices throughout the UK are participating, with more than 120 hospices registering and hundreds of photos being uploaded to the ‘I am hospice care’ gallery.

As part of Hospice Care Week, Earl Mountbatten Hospice on the Isle of Wight asked supporters for their own personal experiences and thoughts on hospice care; here is just a small selection of the many testimonials received:

“Our hospice is a very important part of our community; it is timeless and touches all age groups.”

“The hospice gave my husband the support to live the last year of his life to the full and he did not feel it was a place to die.”

“Just thank you for being there!”

“The hospice does wonderful work – especially the home service so people can stay at home in comfort.”

To find out more about World Hospice and Palliative Care Day 2012 visit www.worldday.org

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