How Well Did the Healthcare System Respond to the Healthcare Needs of Older People with and without Dementia during the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Results from the SI4CARE Project highlighted the need for improvement.

Athens, Greece (April, 2023) - The National & Kapodistrian University of Athens (NKUA), supported by the SI4CARE project partners, published the first peer-review article of the project to the MDPI Geriatrics Journal. Based on our findings, nations in the Adrion area encountered considerable difficulties in accommodating the unique requirements of older people with cognitive impairment and their caregivers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This could be attributed to limited access to healthcare facilities.

The recent health crisis imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected both people's lives as well as the capacity of healthcare professionals to provide their services. One major challenge during the pandemic was the limited accessibility to healthcare facilities, especially for the older population. Indeed, the older people were one of the most affected groups of the population due to the higher health risks they faced during the COVID-19 and additional factors that may have increased their difficulty in accessing healthcare services. For example, the older people are at a higher risk for cognitive decline and dementia, since age is usually one crucial factor for the development of mental disorders. The aim of the current study was to explore how the healthcare system in Adriatic-Ionian countries/regions responded considering the needs of older people with or without cognitive impairment during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the opinions of the older people and healthcare providers. The key findings of the study highlighted that both healthcare stakeholders and the older population claimed that the healthcare needs of the older people and their caregivers increased dramatically in all countries, especially in Italy (Calabria), Croatia and BiH.

The underlying conclusion of those results is that countries from the Adrion regions faced significant challenges to adjust to the special needs of elderly with cognitive impairment and their caregivers during COVID-19 pandemic, possibly due to accessibility opportunities to healthcare facilities. These results highlight the need for the development of alternative ways of providing medical assistance and supervision when in-person care is not possible.

Data were collected through e-questionnaires regarding the adequacy of the healthcare system and were anonymously administered to older individuals and stakeholder providers in the following countries: Slovenia, Italy (Calabria region), Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Montenegro, and Serbia. Overall, 722 older people and 267 healthcare stakeholders participated in the study. More specifically, participants were divided into two target groups: (a) healthcare providers, people who provide health services to patients and maintain health information about them, derived from various positions in healthcare services for the older people, for example: non-governmental organization (NGOs), geriatric societies, medical societies, universities, regulatory authorities, social innovator experts, care centers for the older people, and healthcare service providers and (b) general older persons above the age of 65.

According to a recent review paper by Angelopoulou et al., telemedicine may significantly improve all aspects of the quality of care for older people, and especially patients with dementia. Telemedicine is a valuable tool for the assessment of health monitoring of older people as well as for the assessment of neurodegenerative disorders and related dementias: it can provide access to specialized care and accurate diagnosis, reduction of waiting times and unnecessary transportation, personalized care, appropriate treatment, integrated care, efficiency and equitability by overcoming geographical barriers and cultural diversities.

The 1st Neurological Department of the Medical School of the National & Kapodistrian University of Athens in Eginition Hospital, in an attempt to address the limited access of patients with neurodegenerative disorders to specialized healthcare especially in remote areas, was actively engaged in the development of the 1st Outpatient clinic carried out exclusively online for patients with cognitive and mobility impairments. This clinic served as a pilot action with the support of the SI4CARE project and won the first prize in the "Digital Governance Awards 2022" Competition. Moreover, apart from the medical assessment, another goal of the SI4CARE pilot actions of the National & Kapodistrian University of Athens was the enhancement of active ageing through the implementation of online physical activity programs for dementia that was carried out by the Physiology Laboratory of Medical School. This pilot won the third prize in the "Healthcare Business Awards 2022".

Led by the University of Ljubljana, the SI4CARE project (Social Innovation for integrated health CARE of ageing population in ADRION Region) started in December 2020 and will come to an end in May 2023, involving 10 partners from Slovenia, Italy, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and Greece. It is supported by the Interreg ADRION Programme and is co-financed by the ERDF and IPAII Fund for a total amount of 2.3 M €.

More information & contacts:

SI4CARE website: Social Innovation for integrated health CARE of ageing population in ADRION Region - SI4CARE (adrioninterreg.eu)

SI4CARE social media:

Vlado Dimovski - SI4CARE project leader: vlado.dimovski@ef.uni-lj.si

Darja Semrov - SI4CARE project manager: darja.semrov@fgg.uni-lj.si

Simon Colnar - SI4CARE communication manager: simon.colnar@ef.uni-lj.si

Sokratis G. Papageorgiou - Assos. Professor of Neurology & Neuropsychology, 1st Neurology Department, Medical School, SI4CARE project leader for NKUA: sokpapa@med.uoa.gr