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13 December 2019

Mental health of elderly in spotlight at inter-faith Vatican symposium

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Global experts highlight role of “love” in providing care for elderly patients

Experts in ethics and medicine turned the spotlight on issues surrounding the mental health of the elderly on the final day of an inter-faith symposium in Vatican City that has focused on the role of religion in the provision of healthcare.

Jointly organized by Qatar Foundation initiative the World Innovation Summit for Health and the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, the two-day conference in Rome has brought Islamic, Christian, and Jewish perspectives to issues that exist where faith and medicine meet.

Among the topics discussed at the symposium was the effect of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia on an increasingly-ageing population. A session on Maintaining the Bridge of Love Between People with Dementia and their Carers saw Professor Marco Trabucchi, of the Pontifical Academy for Life, voice his fear that, in some communities, family obligations to helping loved ones suffering from ill-health – especially if they are elderly - are waning. 

“The traditional family structure is in decline,” he warned, linking this to a loss of faith that can subsequently lead to people overlooking their moral responsibility to care for family members.

He said a “new framework” that encourages healthcare institutions to recognize the importance of relationships and love in the process of healing is needed, and explained that

new technologies – such as the advancement of Artificial Intelligence – could help “overworked” caregivers have more time with patients. “It could free up new energies that enables them to have more time for love and personal care,” he said. 

Offering an Islamic perspective on the issue, Dr. Hanadi Khamis Al Hamad, Medical Director of Rumailah Hospital and the Qatar Rehabilitation Institute, said the Muslim faith encourages members of society to take care of their loved ones.

“Love, and taking care of a mother or a father or a loved one, is part of a strong religious conception as a Muslim; it is considered rewarding in Islam,” she told the symposium. “We have a positive responsibility towards our parents.”

What has traditionally been lacking, said Dr. Al Hamad, is a lingering stigma and misconceptions about diseases that afflict an ageing population, most commonly Alzheimer's disease and forms of dementia, explaining that people can hide a family members' dementia or mistakenly believe it is a natural part of the ageing process.

Dr. Al Hamad now helps up to 40 awareness programs in communities across Qatar to break down such barriers and said she has now seen an upsurge of patients seeking help for age-related illnesses in Qatar

Paola Barbarino, CEO of Alzheimer's Disease International, said recent studies by the organization show 62 per cent of healthcare professionals globally think dementia is a normal part of ageing, which “reflects an urgent increased level of training among practitioners about diseases concerning the elderly”. 

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