Caring should be a choice, not an imposition that, in most cases, always falls to women. It is they, mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, sisters-in-law, neighbors, who exclude themselves to attend to their relatives. A situation that is complicated when it comes to people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, who require permanent care and vigilance so that they can continue with their lives to the point that they annul those of those around them.
In 2001, Elena Felipe worked as a health technician at the La Matanza de Acentejo City Council when a socio-health coordination program was launched with the Canary Islands Health Service for continuity of care and support for people leaving the Hospital. University of the Canary Islands.
It was quite a discovery for Elena to see a world that is there but of which she had not been aware until that moment and when she realized it, she did not hesitate to dedicate herself completely.
There was a person who inadvertently pushed her to make the decision, Carmen María Lucas, and to discover the meaning of generosity and dedication, “of mortgaging all your personal development to, in this case, take care of her mother who had Alzheimer’s, despite because he didn’t even recognize who he had by his side.” In that case she “touched her” to the point that now her life is given to these people.
This is how Acufade (Association of Caregivers, Relatives and Friends of People with Dependence, Alzheimer’s and other Dementias) was born, which on September 27, 2005 was formed as an entity of which she is the director and Carmen María, the president. . There were about seven people, two professionals and the caregivers, with little time “but with a lot of desire and needs” at a time when little was known about these diseases despite the fact that when they arrive at a house they affect the whole family.
In 2007 they received their first grant (6,000 euros) thanks to CajaCanarias. It was the caregivers themselves who decided that the destination of that money was to hire a physiotherapist to relieve bedridden people. The City Council, for its part, gave them a space that is currently the Centro Acufade Norte (CAN), “their mother ship”, a space of 400 square meters that allowed them to start providing services and celebrate, that same year, the first insular meeting of caregivers.
Together with the Consistory they were organizing small workshops to understand the disease, to be able to tackle it and to give the caregivers that much-needed respite, to go to the hairdresser or the supermarket in peace.
At that moment Elena’s life took a 180 degree turn, she decided to leave the City Hall and devote herself entirely to Acufade. She did a master’s degree in quality of life for the elderly and took advantage of all the contacts she had to present herself to administrations and public entities in order to request subsidies and hire the first workers.
Thus, Acufade began to grow little by little. The path was not easy, many difficulties and all kinds passed until today, but along the way many people joined. “The efforts at that time were titanic,” recalls the director of him.
In 2014 it was the first accredited entity to provide personal autonomy services such as physiotherapy, emotional and social support, occupational therapy and cognitive stimulation, which were already included in the catalog of benefits of the Dependency Law, although they had to wait until 2016 to go to address and it was from there that they began to expand throughout the Island.
From 2017 onwards, the entity’s day-to-day has been “absolutely dizzying”. He went from a basic team of five people to another of more than 150, in addition to twenty freelancers. Its portfolio of services ranges from the promotion of personal autonomy and day center for dependent people, through advice, training and cognitive stimulation. Likewise, it develops social action projects aimed at volunteering, bringing together caregivers and sharing experiences, combating loneliness in the elderly, promoting active aging through physical activity and adequate nutrition, and access to new technologies. to reduce the digital divide and strengthen their independence. And they have many more in the near future.
Barely two months ago, new facilities were opened in La Victoria de Acentejo, in front of the Town Hall, a building that exudes the necessary tranquility required by the work carried out there with adapted bathrooms, a training room, meeting rooms, spaces to provide support to relatives, and warehouse.
There they prepare the caregivers and they prepare themselves, because they constantly live with loss. Their work is mainly vocational, because no one can work in the Third Sector without believing in mutual help and support for others. “That is another injustice that we find ourselves with today, those wage differences that exist between Third Sector workers, executors of social service policies, and civil servants, who are paid almost half,” Elena emphasizes.
For this same reason, they do not hesitate to be a member of the 15-S movement and attend the demonstration called on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in Weyler Square for social rights, in which they will join other groups that work in the field of the social services and organizations of the Third Sector in the face of the “historical negligence” of the Canarian public administrations and the terrible management of the dependency, “whose culprits we all know”, he sentences.
The Acufade team is convinced that things can be done differently in order to live with Alzheimer’s, and this involves focusing on people, humanizing their care, talking about accessible and functional environments instead of large infrastructures, and creating bonds of affection . “We are interdependent beings and behind each one there is a reality, we don’t want to continue being numbers,” says Elena Felipe.