Speaking from the European Parliament in Strasbourg, where a debate on Active and Healthy Ageing was held this week, Liam Aylward, Ireland East MEP stressed that alleviating social isolation and loneliness must be a key component of any policy or initiative seeking to encourage independent and active living.
“The problems of loneliness and isolation need to be put on an equal standing with any other condition associated with ageing. Studies have shown that loneliness and social isolation can result in higher rates of health problems including heart disease, high blood pressure and dementia and are significant barriers to active and independent living.”
The Ireland East MEP also drew attention to the relentless attack on rural communities which is hitting vulnerable elderly the hardest and undermining independent living for older citizens in rural Ireland.
“The comfort and security which older citizens should have a right to in their homes is also being undermined. The fuel allowance which many people are reliant on to keep their homes warm has been cut. Grants for safety alarms have also been cut. Post offices are closing. Crimes against the elderly have steadily increased in recent years yet over 100 Garda stations, mostly in rural areas, are to be closed. Elderly people are worrying more about their safety and this fear is increasing the sense of social isolation. “
It was highlighted during the debate that the European Union’s population aged 65 years and older is set to double from 85 million in 2008 to 151 million by 2060 and policy must be adapted accordingly.
The Ireland East MEP stressed that:“Any European policy or initiatives introduced must address the fundamental problem of loneliness and we must devise a policy which will address the growing needs of this group in all communities, but particularly in rural areas where they are most vulnerable.”