10 dec 2023 om 05:02
Dutch people are getting older and so something must be done about elderly care. The largest political parties want more space in nursing homes, but healthcare itself prefers a more comprehensive approach. “Nursing home care needs to be looked at differently.”
Major political parties want to expand the number of places in nursing homes, but there are concerns about the sustainability of the current healthcare system. The report ‘Doing nothing is not an option’ warns that the Netherlands is at the beginning of an aging wave. As a result, the number of healthcare workers should increase by 76 percent in twenty years. Healthcare organizations are experimenting with new methods, such as the use of data and technology.
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Healthcare organization Amstelring in Amsterdam is one of the many examples of how elderly care itself is working on the question of what care should look like in the future. For example, alarms and data are used in nursing homes. “That data is focused on how people live within our locations,” spokesperson Jacqueline Donga explains.
“How often do they click the alarm bell? How often does someone get out of bed at night or when does someone sleep? By analyzing that data we can better deploy our healthcare workers.”
The organization also looks at elderly people living at home. This is done with the help of digital care, for example, where how someone is doing is monitored remotely. What tools does someone need to continue to help themselves?
Donga also points to other innovations in healthcare: consider the Medido automatic medicine dispenser, or drop glasses with which someone can apply eye drops themselves. “All these resources help to help as many elderly people as possible with the available healthcare workers.”
“The working population is not growing, but the number of elderly people is,” says Donga. “So we will have to make use of many other options.”
The aging wave has only just begun
The Netherlands is only at the beginning of an aging wave, IBO Elderly Care concluded in the report published this summer. Doing nothing is not an option. In twenty years, the number of people over 80 will probably almost double. If nothing changes, the number of healthcare workers needed will increase by 76 percent and expenditure on elderly care will double.
The researchers fear long waiting lists, a loss of quality of life and that poorer people will soon no longer have the same care available to richer people. At the same time, society continues to expect that the elderly receive the best care. And so something must be done, the researchers conclude.
What is the difference between a care home or a nursing home?
Nursing homes are home to people who require serious care and have gone there for a medical reason. In a nursing home, people need less intensive care. These care homes, also known colloquially as retirement homes, hardly exist anymore.
‘More of the same is not sustainable’
More money, staff or other expectations alone will not solve the problems. According to Olfert Koning of trade association ActiZ, building more nursing homes is necessary in some places, but practice must also be taken into account. “The labor market is already tight and the number of elderly people is growing rapidly. More of the same is not sustainable. Nursing home care must be looked at in a different way.”
Hilde Verbeek, professor of care environment for vulnerable elderly people at Maastricht University, says that we need to conduct the discussion about elderly care “completely differently”. “I don’t think you can just increase the number of nursing home places. Agreements have been made about this with the previous cabinet and healthcare offices. I don’t think we should want that either.”
According to Verbeek, the current system “does not do justice to people’s wishes and needs”. Verbeek: “There are people who need care, sometimes 24 hours a day, but they need places that support daily life. The way we have now organized nursing home care does not always support that.”
In addition, people are now living alone at home “far too long” and informal caregivers are becoming overloaded, Verbeek sees. “That’s distressing.”
Other forms of living and use of technology
Healthcare organizations are already developing forms of care in which people live independently, but can also receive intensive care, Verbeek sees. “Care farms, for example. They focus much more on what people can still do themselves, no matter how small, and how we can keep them involved.”
Also for people who need less intensive care, more “thinking outside the box” is needed, says Verbeek. She points out, among other things, residential communities, where the elderly remain part of the community.
Verbeek also sees potential in the technologies that nursing homes such as Amstelring are experimenting with. “But we are only at the beginning. Technological gadgets are also being invented that are not really a solution for anything, or to which people still have to add value. Good technology can mean a lot, but we must also remain critical of that.”
Koning does note that developments in nursing home care are also very dependent on other policies. “Nursing home care is not an island in itself, it also depends on other choices. What plans do housing associations and municipalities have? Are daytime activities organised? Are there meeting places? That is important to combat loneliness, for example.”
Elderly care is not a problem of healthcare, but of society, Koning concludes. “For decades, governments have not created a comprehensive and complete vision of the aging society. We need to know where we want to go.”