08 Aug 2022

Opinion: We must continue to support older people long after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed

Opinion: We must continue to support older people long after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed

At ALONE we regularly work with older people in times of personal crisis. For more than 40 years, we have worked with older people experiencing difficulties including loneliness, social isolation, homelessness, financial difficulties, housing problems, frailty, and other challenges.

We are now working with older people in a time of national crisis. In March, we launched the national COVID-19 helpline for older people in collaboration with the Department of Health and the HSE. We are now also working with the Local Authorities and range of community and statutory bodies to ensure support is available for older people and those who are at risk. During this time we have received more than 23,833 calls to the helpline and we have made in excess of 102,753 phone calls to older people who need support at this time.

Over thousands of hours of calls, we have heard a huge amount of concern about COVID-19 and the impact it is having on the lives of older people in Ireland. We have seen a worrying increase in the number of older people experiencing suicidal ideation, and also large increases in the number of older people requiring support with loneliness and social isolation. The other challenges experienced by older people around falls and physical health, finance, and housing difficulties, are also exacerbated by the current crisis, and we are continuing to respond and expand our services to meet these needs.

More than three quarters of the older people who have called our helpline live alone. For many of those who already experienced isolation, loneliness and mental health difficulties such as anxiety, these challenges have become more entrenched. For those who had already experienced housing facilities problems, staying at home all day has made these difficulties more difficult to bear. It is this group of older people, whose stories often go unheard, who are most in need of support.

Cocooning restrictions, while necessary and vital to restrict the spread of COVID-19, have had a detrimental impact on the mental and physical wellbeing of older people across the country. However, lifting these restrictions will bring about a new set of difficulties. This week we have received increased calls from older people who have fallen, or who are too nervous to go outside for fear of falling. Physical deconditioning as a result of long periods spend indoors and the impact of this on conditions like frailty will have a long term impact on the physical health of older people.

Older people still have a huge challenge ahead of them in the weeks and months to come. The COVD-19 Roadmap contains no further reference to those who have been cocooning beyond Phase 2, and there are still to be questions to be answered as to what the further easing of restrictions will entail for older people, and the supports that will be available to them throughout this time.

It is vital therefore that Government ensure the appropriate immediate supports are in place for older people during this time. We also need to take action on the long-term issues impacting older people which COVID-19 has further brought to light. A national strategy to combat loneliness, the delivery of purpose-built housing with support to enable older people to live in their communities for longer, the implementation and funding of a statutory home care scheme, and commitments to Sláintecare and the National Positive Ageing Strategy, are just some of the actions we need to discuss now, and which need to be part of the next Programme for Government. Older people, and particularly those who are socially and medically vulnerable, have been among those groups who have struggled and sacrificed the most as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19 and it should follow that they are supported to deal with it throughout and in its aftermath.

We ask Government to ensure that we change the ways we support older people following this crisis. These are challenging times for all of us and particularly for older people, but we must take this opportunity and commit to ensuring that no older person goes without the support they need, now and in the weeks and months to come. 

If you need support from ALONE, call their national helpline number, from 8am-8pm seven days a week, on 0818 222 024.

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