Given Cuba’s social policy, which centers on the needs of the people, the country is facing a marked process of population aging, requiring specialized attention for citizens 60 years of age and older.
Older Adult Community Centers are one such specialized service. These institutions are open daily from 8am to 5pm, and receive individuals whose families are unable to care for them during the day. Support is offered to these seniors who must look after themselves and continue to carry out normal everyday tasks.
There are currently 274 facilities of this kind throughout the country, with a capacity for 9,393 people; as well as 3,310 daytime care places across the island’s network of retirement homes. As such, Cuba is able to provide daily care to some 12,703 people 60 years of age or older. Meanwhile, work is underway to establish Older Adult Community Centers in Mariel, Caimito, Alquízar and Madruga, the only four municipalities in the country which currently lack these services.
Granma International visited the Sol de Otoño (Autumn Sun) Community Center in the municipality of Centro Habana, and spoke to its Director, Elizabeth Abreu Dixon, who explained that the facility is located close to the sea and was built almost a century ago.
Abreu Dixon noted that the institution receives older adults referred by their community doctors, who know residents well and are able to identify older adults in need of assistance. Meanwhile, information about the center is disseminated by neighborhood organizations such as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the Federation of Cuban Women and others which help to promote the facility within the community.
Inés María Angulo Domínguez, a social worker at Sol de Otoño, explained that her work is focused on helping to restore older adults’ physical, psychological and cognitive functions with the aim of reinserting them into the community.
Also an occupational therapist, Inés María stated that “We assess the older adults’ active capacities and establish training methods, working with patience given their slower learning process. We integrate them into the group and give them certain responsibilities in order to improve and increase their participation in household activities.”
For this reason, older adults are divided into three groups: A, B, and C. The first requires them to socialize, carry out cleaning tasks such as dusting, arranging furniture, helping to set the table, and others. They also receive music therapy and practice daily activities which they haven’t done for a long time.
Those in group B undertake activities to develop their orientation skills and awareness of their surroundings, they go over daily bathing habits, table manners and other tasks; including washing hands and brushing teeth, all of which contribute to the individual’s social and occupational rehabilitation.
Meanwhile, those in Group C are able to perform all the vital functions described above and are also taught how to use electronic devices, such as TV remotes and decoders, and cell and landline phones. There are also plans to teach members IT skills and how to surf the internet, a service which is currently unavailable due to a lack of computers.
Angulo Domínguez noted that “We are looking for greater integration with their closest relations. We visit homes and give advice on activities to be undertaken during the evening. We also promote exchanges with other institutions such as the Municipal Office of Culture, and Sports, to organize activities featuring artists or for sporting pleasure.”
WORK STARTS IN THE COMMUNITY
As people get older they face new realities: children leave the family home, new health problems present themselves, their working life comes to an end and eventually older adults cease to occupy a central role in the family.
Besides the country’s health and education systems, the Ministry of Labor and Social Security (MTSS) also does much to improve the quality of life of older adults on the island; developing important measures geared toward preventing and managing problems likely to affect this segment of the population.
Yoel Majín Hernández Padilla, director of the MTSS’s Prevention, Assistance and Social Work department, spoke with Granma International about policies designed to protect the country’s older adults.
“In Cuba we have a work system to provide a comprehensive response to problems associated with older adults, which are usually organized by the ministries of Public Health, Culture, Education, Higher Education, the Older Adults Faculty (providing university level courses), local governments and the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation.
“For this we have one social worker for every 600 family units, who work in the community and are responsible for attending families with elderly members, to prevent social problems that may be linked to violence, neglect, or abandonment, etc.
“Social workers must identify problems and from there, evaluate the causes, draw up an action plan and assess how the situation is progressing. However, they can’t do this alone; it must be done together with all actors of the community.”
HELPING OLDER ADULTS BY SUPPORTING FAMILIES
The structure of the Cuban family has been changing over the last 50 yeas, from two-parent units with several children to those with fewer children and many single-parent families.
This situation frequently results in many older adults living alone, or with relations unable to care for them full-time, or lacking the necessary resources to meet their needs.
In such cases, the Social Welfare system – which although not specifically directed to older adults, does benefit this sector more than any other – offers monetary, in kind and service based benefits.
“Regarding the former,” noted Hernández Padilla, “they are given a check book (through which they receive their pension payments). This is done by assessing all members of the household, relations in a position to provide help, income and expenses, following which a check book is either approved or denied.”
As Hernández Padilla notes, in terms of services, the system provides the option of a social worker who makes home visits to older adults who live alone: “The Social Welfare system pays someone to help older adults with daily tasks or chores for between four and eight hours a day depending on the needs, mobility and general state of the individual, as well as their ability to look after themselves.”
Other benefits include food services provided by the Ministry of Trade through units operated by the Family Assistance System, not having to pay for medical prescriptions or transport fares if the individual needs to travel to another province to receive medical care.
Cuba’s social care policy isn’t just designed to protect the individual, but entire family units in need of assistance. Both the readiness of institutions and bodies to work jointly to resolve issues affecting older adults, as well as the political will of the government to make this group the focus of attention, are examples of the humanist spirit of the Revolution.
Shortly before ending our visit to the Sol de Otoño Older Adult Community Center, we spoke to some of those benefited by institution, all of whom feel at home here, where they exercise, play board games, receive medical care and are provided with guaranteed meals.
Their smiles reflect their gratitude, years of accumulated wisdom and lust for life. All agree that the Community Center is like a big family, where they share interests, develop skills, and are encouraged to continue living a full life. The secret of such success lies in the give and receive concept of care provided.