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ALONE research shows that one in ten elderly people are lonely or isolated. DPA/PA Images

Leading charity needs to double volunteer base due to 'endemic' loneliness among older people

‘People are very good, but unfortunately the demand is very high,’ said the ALONE CEO.

THE CEO OF a leading charity that highlights the loneliness that some elderly people face said they need to double their number of volunteers to keep up with demand.

ALONE said its research has found that “loneliness is endemic amongst older people”, equalling to around one in ten older people.

Speaking to The Journal, the CEO of ALONE Seán Moynihan cautioned that “isolation and loneliness can shorten your life”.

ALONE’s campaign this winter is called “Share the Warmth” and Moynihan said it’s about connecting communities and creating friendships, which he describes as “the key to people’s health and well-being”.

Moynihan added that older people have had to “navigate a lot of challenges over the last two years, from COVID, healthcare delays, inflation and the energy crisis”.

“For us at Christmas, it’s about making sure that everybody includes the older people in their family and in their community,” said Moynihan.

On Christmas Day, Moynihan says ALONE will deliver Christmas dinners to around 1,000 older people, as well as helping people around fuel and energy costs.

When asked how to approach someone if it is thought that they are lonely or vulnerable, Moynihan says that older people should be encouraged to reach out for help.

“Health, transport, housing needs, loneliness, whatever it happens to be, we’ll work with them to solve the problem so they can age at home,” said the ALONE CEO.

“So give us a ring on the phone on the national support line (0818 222 024), we’re here seven days a week, 12 hours a day, and we won’t close over Christmas and we have a network of staff and volunteers that will respond around the country.”

He adds that people in the community need to build up relationships to enable them to make a “judgement call” on whether someone should be referred for help.

“For the community, every great relationship begins with a ‘hello’,” said Moynihan.

“The reality is that nobody necessarily wants to impose, but at the same time people have to make a judgment call about some other people.

“There’s a fair percentage of older people who are volunteering, running businesses, but some are isolated and lonely so it’s really about including people and starting those hellos and conversations.

“People can have to make a judgment call when they know they can see an older person on the street that, maybe through ill-health or bereavement, they don’t get out that much.

“Start off with a ‘hello’ and then a conversation and then you can go from there.”

While the issue of loneliness among older people is emphasised over Christmas, Moynihan expressed hope that people would consider volunteering in the new year.

He added that “plenty of older people are working with us as well to help other older people”.

However, he warned that the “reality” is that ALONE has around 4,500 volunteers, but needs around 9,000 to meet demand.

“That’s the scale of the isolation and loneliness around the country,” said Moynihan,

“It’s an all year round problem, and some older people will just ignore Christmas, and just get through it and into the new year because of sadness or poor health or isolation and loneliness.

“For us, we want to bring joy and support to them. Covid proved it and it’s been proved over again that the community doesn’t want people left in isolation and loneliness.

“That journey of ill-health or bereavement could happen to any of us and we would want people to be there for us (if we were in those circumstances).”

Moynihan adds that the volunteers get as much out of it as do the people they support.

“It’s a reciprocal thing. The volunteers get as much out of it as the older people. Helping people, spending time with older people, the advice and the guidance from the older people, it’s the spirit of Christmas which we try to bring every day, all year round.

“The benefits of volunteering is nearly as big as it is to the older people because we all need a purpose in life. For a lot of people who volunteer, it’s an expression of their community spirit and their values as well.

“We will have around 30-40,000 volunteer hours in December alone. People are very good, but unfortunately the demand is very high.

“We have an aging population which results in increases in demands in this area, so we need to adapt our health services, our transport, and even services like ALONE have to scale to meet that increased need.”

You can find ALONE’s website here. 

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