Brazil elderly vulnerable to overburdened health care system

By Valeria Barbosa  |  Jan. 9, 2013 at 5:41 PM
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RIO DE JANEIRO (GPI)-- Maria Alzira da Silva, 83, and her siblings, residents of the City of God, a notorious Rio de Janeiro slum, lost their father at a young age. They grew up supporting each other and their mother. But now, as they age, they say they have no one to support them. As adults, the three siblings remained close. Benedito da Silva, the oldest, married, but neither of his sisters ever wed. Benedito died of throat cancer in 2004. Shortly after, Maria Alzira’s sister, Maria Marta, became ill because of complications from diabetes. She died in 2006, leaving Maria Alzira on her own. Today, da Silva uses crutches after a fall. She has a small pension and spends her days at Casa Emilien Lacay, a day program in the City of God that provides seniors with activities and meals. The program is free and runs on donations. But in the late afternoon, da Silva says she returns to her loneliness and her cats. She describes herself as independent and cheerful, but she worries about the future. "My concern is tomorrow or after,” she says. “I can no longer be alone.” Da Silva fears the day when she will be no longer able to live independently and will have to depend on others to help her to take a bath or to cook. She has already hired someone to sweep her yard and wash her clothes, but she says it’s difficult to find a trustworthy person to help for what she can afford to pay them. "I know there are elderly who are afraid of receiving help from neighbors for fear of someone taking something from their house without permission,” she says, “and they get aggressive when someone tries to help them.” Da Silva says she has heard rumors that there is a nursing home in a nearby neighborhood that cares for the elderly. But she has walked around the area and has never seen it. She is hopeful that she can eventually move to a place where she would have care every day but still remain close to the area where she has lived all her life. "I do not want to go to a nursing home in a distant neighborhood,” she says. “I no longer have my siblings, and having to lose the few friends and acquaintances I made in life, it is very sad!” As Brazil’s population ages, the elderly in the City of God slum say that there is a lack of people and places to care for them. Privately run centers offer free activities for the elderly during the day. The government operates two health care centers, but nurses and social workers say they need more trained professionals to handle the volume of patients. They also call for more training at the community and family levels in order to teach people how to care for the elderly. The number of elderly people in Brazil has increased from 15.5 million in 2001 to 23.5 million in 2011, according to research by Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics. People 60 and older now account for 25 percent of the population. In the City of God, nearly 11 percent of residents are older than 60, according to the 2010 government census. Eulalia da Silva, 76, who is not related to Maria Alzira da Silva, has lived alone in the City of God since her husband died. Her only son died young after becoming involved She walks with difficulty through her untidy house, taking a minute to rest against the few items of furniture she has. Her hair and clothing are disheveled.

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