FRONTIZO (“I care” in Greek) is an initiative taken in 2009, by some people who are either professional or have some relation to the elderly and disabled individuals in the city Patras. We saw that there were substantial needs to be covered, so we felt it was appropriate to make such a collective effort to mainly support individuals belonging to these vulnerable groups.
With a rapidly increasing elderly population in Greece, our aim is to highlight and defend the rights of the elderly. There are many things that the wider public doesn’t know, such as specificities of various incurable diseases, so we started to create synergies and partnerships to cover these needs.
Today, there are 200,000 patients with dementia in Greece, corresponding to 6% of the total elderly population. These figures are certainly expected to increase. Current projections double the number of elderly by 2050, something that will undoubtedly affect these numbers. Therefore, the services and efforts to be made collectively are large and need to be further strengthened.
At the beginning, there was no clear knowledge on the issues and needs of elderly assistance. We could not identify these people, because in Greece there are no structures -and structured policy, in general- for dementia. Therefore, it was not easy for people to understand the benefits of our actions, which had to be communicated by word of mouth from scratch. Those initial difficulties were overcome as our interventions started becoming more visible, and as the spirit of cooperation developed with the patients and their caregivers over time.
We are interested in entering the homes of these people because in most times they do not even get out of their homes. It’s not the same to meet with them in a public institution, compared to entering into their homes.
Since we cannot do many things by ourselves, establishing collaborations is imperative for the expansion of our operations and to ensure resources. We work with the local government, mainly the Region of Western Greece, and with associations of patients with whom we organize activities and events for the dissemination of knowledge and solidarity. Through those collaborations with diverse stakeholders, we acquire more knowledge in dementia, and the training of family carers.
Our interventions occur in physical and mental level, helping the recovery process and educating caregivers on how they can give proper care. This is done by a team consisting of a social worker, a trainer, a physiotherapist and a nurse. The aim is to keep the patients’ good aspects, to maintain their functional and mental status (such as orientation, memory, etc.) and assist them with their behavior. Many times, these people have a lot of stress, anxiety or depression, so they calm through our intervention. Caregivers, who are not aware of basic issues before entering the program, receive training that allows them to continue their work after the end of the intervention, which always has a specific duration. These people are very actively looking for information and, as we enter their home, there is a direct interaction. We have observed a reduction of the stress and burden felt by of caregivers. Let us not forget that we live in a difficult time and they are people who have their own issues (family, finances, etc.), so the pressure is too high. Of course, all our services are free.
We are very satisfied with the hitherto results of our initiative. Because from a point where there was nothing and the state has not been completely inactive in this field, we now see that more and more caregivers seek for our advice. Through the creation of partnerships and through hard work, this effort is now recognized. At the local level, the authorities understand the value of our work and want to support us to further evolve these services.
What we also observe, is an increasing flow of volunteers. We continue to do actions within the community, targeting the general elderly population, and offering information and tips on healthy lifestyle, diet, and exercise. The beneficiaries may come in contact with our activities digitally, via the website and through social networks.
In general, there is a lack of public understanding about the issue of dementia in Greece. Therefore, the response to our call was not so evident at the beginning, due to this ignorance. We had to face, of course, the classic issues the grassroots initiatives are facing in Greece. For example, the fact that the state was very slow in harmonizing the legislation on how organizations of civil society should operate. Since then, however, as our activities were broadly communicated and because the program is organized in 6-month long circles, there was an increase in the number of both beneficiaries and volunteers. We currently serve 20 people in each circle, and we have so far registered about 60 people (patients and their families). By the end the year, we estimate to have surpassed 3000 home visits.
In FRODIZO, we are all young people and the whole intervention is non-medical. This is why at the beginning, there was suspicion towards our actions. Over time, we have generated significant experience, as well as a database of beneficiaries facing problems related to dementia, and their carers. Hence, we now feel more confident and secure, since we have been in direct contact with the challenge for so long. Also, we were able to get in touch with larger organizations, developed teamwork and discipline because these interventions must be always characterized by formality and consistency.
Broadly speaking, we cannot cover all needs by ourselves, because they are huge. We want to attract more people around us to meet the challenge in the best possible way. Dealing with this kind of work is a special opportunity for young scientists who can provide major services to society, especially to its most vulnerable parts. These actions deserve to be recognized by the society, to be studied and supported.