Valletta mayor Alexiei Dingli says his city was not built with the elderly in mind, with 'sloping roads' and 'steep climbs' making the Maltese capital unsuitable for its ageing citizenry
8 November 2017, 7:18am
Photographer Gilbert Calleja’s exploration of Valletta’s elderly, seen through the encounters of a parish priest administering the sacraments inside their homes, is testimony to the difficult lives of those who live inside apartment blocks without elevators and where life in the capital city can be rendered much harder due to its steep inclines
It may have been a city built for gentlemen, in Benjamin Disraeli’s favourable view. But to its mayor Alexiei Dingli, Valletta certainly did not have the elderly in mind when it was being designed 450 years ago.
The capital city hosts Malta’s major institutional buildings and is the place of work for government. But to its resident population of 6,500 – a quarter of the population of other bustling towns like Sliema – there is one major shortcoming: the lack of a nursing home for the elderly.
“A lot of elderly people face mobility issues every day and even if we try hard to reduce architectonic barriers, it will take some time,” Dingli, a professor of artificial intelligence at the University of Malta says.
“Furthermore, getting basic necessities might be hard and some elderly have to rely on their neighbours for their day-to-day chores. Valletta is a city that is easy to get lost in if you’re suffering from conditions like dementia, because all the streets are straight. Having heavy traffic entering the city every day only helps to increase the dangers for our elderly.”
(C) Gilbert Calleja
Dingli says that the elderly in Valletta constitute around one in three of the population, arguably making it quite a dense concentration of aged residents. With its sloping roads and steep climb towards the centre, the city is undoubtedly a major challenge for its elderly.
Now Dingli has started a petition calling on the authorities to hive off a property that can be used for the care of the elderly in Valletta.
“We should always keep on improving services in the community so that people don’t get uprooted from their environment as much as possible, but we know that this won’t work in a number of cases. There might be elderly people who cannot live any longer on their own because of some medical condition. There might be others who live with their family but it’s hard for the family to take care of them. In some cases they would require round the clock assistance.
Dingli says Valletta’s elderly are prisoners in their homes because of mobility issues. 'The problem at the moment is that when they are placed in an old people’s home, they are relocated to somewhere far from Valletta, the place where they lived all their life and which they love'
“We also have elderly who are prisoners in their homes because of mobility issues. The problem at the moment is that when they are placed in an old people’s home, they are relocated to somewhere far from Valletta, the place where they lived all their life and which they love.”
Dingli says that this uprooting from their neighbourhood and their friends can be a death sentence for some. “We want to avoid this. We have our elderly at heart, we value their contribution to society and I think it is our duty to provide them with a decent home within their city and close to their friends.”
(C) Gilbert Calleja
Dingli’s concern is also backed up by a recent study in Malta’s two largest old people’s homes, which found over 67% of residents depressed and – more worryingly – the majority not being treated for their depression.
Residents of homes for the elderly are more likely to be depressed because they are also more likely to experience loneliness after being widowed. They are, therefore, more likely to experience “emptiness and solitude” resulting from inadequate levels of social relationships.
(C) Gilbert Calleja
Dingli says the Valletta local council has already earmarked the children’s home, Piccola Casa di San Giuseppe, situated on the Valletta ring-road and overlooking Marsamxett Harbour. The building used to be managed by the Ursuline Sisters, as a potential home.
“The place was an institute for small children. However the nuns relinquished the place and returned it to the State. We have made enquires about it but we were told that government already has plans for it. However, the place is currently rotting. It already had dormitories, a lift, and a kitchen so repurposing it shouldn’t be a big problem.
“It has some nice views where the elderly can spend their time. It is close to a garden and very easy to reach even by bus, since there’s a bus stop right next to the property. I believe the people of Valletta deserve to have a good nursing home and strongly appeal to the Prime Minister to donate it to the people of Valletta so that they can start using it.”
(c) 2017 MediaToday Co. Ltd. All rights reserved. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate.info)., source Middle East & North African Newspapers