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Philanthropy and Science

Piracicaba's Old People's Home completes 100 years looking after the elderly with the help of the university

LAR DOS VELHINHOS DE PIRACICABA archiveHome’s first pavilion, build before 1906LAR DOS VELHINHOS DE PIRACICABA archive

The aging of the Brazilian population and the Social Welfare Service continually in crisis, have projected difficulties for the country to maintain its elderly over the next few decades.

The people of 60 years or more, who totaled 16.7 million in 2005, will be 27 million in 2020, according to the estimate made by the Brazilian Geography and Statistics Institute (IBGE). Part of this population will spend the final stage of their lives in support homes projected for them. One of these places, Piracicaba’s Old People’s Home, in the interior of the state of São Paulo State, has become known as a model for housing the elderly and for its tradition – this month the Home completes 100 years.

Science has paid its part in the success of this institution, which today plays home to around 400 elderly. “Without technical-scientific preparation for taking care after the elderly nothing would go forward”, advised Jairo Ribeiro de Mattos, the president of the Old People’s Home. “Common homes for the elderly offer a bed, food and nothing else.” Seventy-five year old Mattos is a retired professor from the Luiz de Queiroz Upper School of Agriculture (Esalq), of the University of São Paulo (USP), and is presiding over the organization for the fourth time. During his first mandate, in 1971, he proposed changes in the Home that led to it being known as the First Geriatric Town in Brazil. Up until that year, the institution had been like so many others, destined to receive people from 60 years upwards, within an interned regime, which had the philanthropic support of some people in the town and of the Heart of Mary, Franciscan Nuns, Convent. “I called upon people from the Esalq to help me create a model that would allow the Home to be self sufficient”, says Mattos.

The Old People’s Home was founded by the entrepreneur Pedro Alexandrino de Almeida on the 26th of August 1906. With 156,000 m2 in area, up until 1971 it had had four pavilions with rooms for up to six people. Mattos began to build houses that could be used by the elderly who were capable of looking after themselves – 130 of them were built.

The system works in the following manner: the elderly person contributes between R$ 35,000 and R$ 60,000 for the house, depending upon the size of the house, which can be up to 80 m2. The person also pays a small fee, which guarantees their stay at the location and would sustain them in the case of loss of assets. If the person were to fall ill, he/she would be transferred to one of the pavilions to be treated there. After death, the asset is not inherited by the children, but passed on again or ceded to another elderly people. “This is a source of income that makes us a little less dependent on outside help”, says Mattos. A new strategy that will help the Home to become self-sustaining is the construction of 46 flats that will be used as housing or by families that need to leave their elderly parents there for some weeks or even as a day nursery scheme for a relative to spend a day.

The elderly with little or no resources live for free in rooms set out within the pavilions and are attended to by nursing teams and by the religious Franciscan nuns. If they so wish, all of them can work inside the Home. The university got involved to improve the quality of life of the institution’s population. The Methodist University of Piracicaba (Unimep) has had a convention with the Home since 1979. “We do physiotherapy work with a phytotherapy to alleviate scabs and rheumatic problems, for example”, says Jorge Daister, a professor at Unimep. The Esalq has been doing research into the effect of the use of a food supplement for the elderly since 1999. “We suggested a change of food, taking out fatty meats and introducing a supplement of cereals, legumes and oleaginous foods”, says Jocelem Mastrodi Salgado, a professor and researcher with the Esalq. Once the recommendations had been accepted, there was a significant reduction in the cost of medicines.