ALONE, the organisation which supports older people, is asking the Government to ensure that long term supports are in place for older people impacted by COVID-19, as Ireland moves into the next phase of the pandemic. As members of the public and supporters begin to return to work, the organisation has called for current levels of support for older people to be maintained and increased, highlighting that we have yet to see the full impact cocooning has had on older people who are medically and socially vulnerable. ALONE has also stated that inequality has played a role in the course of the pandemic, with those who are most marginalised among the most affected.
ALONE is concerned that the lifting of restrictions may create a new set of challenges for older people who are struggling during the pandemic, and are encouraging older people to seek help if needed. ALONE has noted that there may be a reduction in some of the supports that have been available to older people so far, as family members, neighbours and communities return to work and resume their original roles, with those who are more marginalised among the most at risk.
ALONE has highlighted that physical and mental health difficulties are causing increased challenges for older people, with many calling ALONE’s helpline to say they have fallen or are experiencing illness or pain, but do not want to go to GP surgeries or A&E due to anxiety around contracting COVID-19. Lack of access to chiropody and other services are having a direct impact on people’s ability to leave their home for exercise safely, and many callers indicate deconditioning and point to increasing frailty as a result of cocooning. ALONE have also noted a continuing increase in the number of older people expressing very low mood due to cocooning.
Older people who are among marginalised groups are among those who are most negatively impacted, as poor living conditions are emphasised by the amount of time spent at home. Increased grocery and heating costs are also impacting on the financial security of older people, particularly those who are reliant on the state pension.
Since it launched in March, ALONE’s national helpline for older people has received more than 20,000 calls. In addition to this, ALONE staff and volunteers have made 70,729 calls to older people who needed support. 72% of the older people who called the ALONE helpline in the last week are living alone.
“We are only now starting the see the true impact that cocooning is having on older people,” said ALONE CEO Seán Moynihan. “While previously older people were expressing boredom, anxiety and concern, now we are seeing a level of mental and physical health difficulty which is extremely worrying. We are concerned that as people begin to return to work, older people who generally rely on day care services and other supports will not have the support they need.”
ALONE has been working alongside the Irish Gerontological Society to ensure that long term supports and services are in place for older people who need them. Both organisations have asked that the next Government prioritise the needs of older people by focusing efforts on the delivery of the Sláintecare strategy, the statutory home support scheme and the implementation of the National Positive Ageing Strategy. They also suggest that the new government appoint a Minister for Older People, with a cross-departmental reach and brief.
Diarmuid O’Shea, President of the Irish Gerontological Society stated, “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted again that the health and support needs of older people have gone unmet for many years. We need to provide a broader range of acute, psychosocial and community supports. Our new Government needs to prioritise this as part of the Programme for Government. This is not just a time to observe, pause and reflect. It is a time for action. We previously asked the new government to appoint a Minister for Older People, with a cross departmental reach. The conversation about what we have learnt, and how we can improve and transform the care that older people receive in our communities, must start now.”
Seán Moynihan, ALONE CEO stated, “We are asking that the new Government prioritise the needs of older people in order to mitigate the impact that the pandemic has had on older members of our society. Recent Government formation documents have contained minimal reference to the issues faced by older people, which is something that urgently needs to change. Older people have been profoundly affected as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19 and must be adequately supported to deal with its aftermath.”
ALONE is encouraging older people who need advice or support to call their support line, 0818 222 024 from 8am-8pm, seven days a week. The support line, which is running in collaboration with the Department of Health and the HSE, is available to all older people including those who have not used ALONE’s services previously. The support line is designed to complement the clinical advice and information being provided by the HSE through its website and helpline.
Contact ALONE on 0818 222 024 if you have concerns about your own wellbeing, or the wellbeing of an older person you know. Further information can be found on www.alone.ie.