Background: The flight of Syrian and Palestinian families into Lebanon from Syria included a number of older refugees. This study sought to characterize the physical and emotional conditions, dietary habits, coping practices, and living conditions of this elderly population arriving in Lebanon between March 2011 and March 2013.
Methods: A systematic selection of 210 older refugees from Syria was drawn from a listing of 1800 refugees over age 60 receiving assistance from the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center (CLMC) or the Palestinian Women's Humanitarian Organization (PALWHO). CLMC and PALWHO social workers collected qualitative and quantitative information during 2013.
Results: Two-thirds of older refugees described their health status as poor or very poor. Most reported at least one non-communicable disease, with 60% having hypertension, 47% reporting diabetes, and 30% indicating some form of heart disease. Difficulties in affording medicines were reported by 87%. Physicial limitations were common: 47% reported difficulty walking and 24% reported vision loss. About 10% were physically unable to leave their homes and 4% were bedridden. Most required medical aids such as walking canes and eyeglasses. Diet was inadequate with older refugees reporting regularly reducing portion sizes, skipping meals, and limiting intake of fruits, vegetables, and meats. Often this was done to provide more food to younger family members. Some 61% of refugees reported feeling anxious, and significant proportions of older persons reported feelings of depression, loneliness, and believing they were a burden to their families. 74% of older refugees indicated varying degrees of dependency on humanitarian assistance.
Conclusion: The study concluded older refugees from Syria are a highly vulnerable population needing health surveillance and targeted assistance. Programs assisting vulnerable populations may concentrate services on women and children leaving the elderly overlooked.
Keywords: Disabilities; Lebanon; Non-communicable diseases; Older populations; Refugees; Syrians.