'Take the time to talk it through. Explain what it all means': The helpline demystifying Covid-19 for older people

A dedicated helpline by organisation Alone is supporting older people across the country as the coronavirus outbreak continues.

AMIDST THE KIND of panic buying that the government and public health agencies were actively discouraging, a photo of an elderly woman doing her shopping at an almost bare aisle went viral.

It provoked an outpouring of sentiment on social media about how older people are particularly vulnerable in the current crisis, and that how we should all make sure to bear them in mind with our actions going forward.

A helpline set up to address the concerns of older people in Ireland set up just six days ago as the coronavirus outbreak began to escalate in this country has already received hundreds of calls.

Now, as the country moves into the delay phase of how it responds to the outbreak, older persons charity Alone says it will be scaling up the supports it gives through this helpline in the coming weeks.

‘Drastic action’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar referred to the actions taken by the State as “unprecedented” while Tánaiste Simon Coveney said that “never before has such drastic action been taken in the face of a public health threat.

From 6pm on Thursday, all schools and colleges in the State were told to close. The same applied to public facilities, museums, galleries and tourism sites.

People who could work from home were told to do so if possible. 

Ahead of these lockdown measures, Alone launched a national support line for older people to give advice and reassurance amidst the ongoing outbreak.

Alone is also working with the Department of Health and HSE on a coordinated national response to support older people who have concerns, may be at risk or who have contracted Covid-19.

The organisation’s CEO Sean Moynihan told that the service has led to hundreds of phone calls since it went online at the start of the week.

“We’ve been helping at doing that essential support element,” he said. “Agencies have come together to work like never before when faced with this.”


Moynihan explained that the work of Alone is supplemented by 2,500 volunteers from all over the country. Before Covid-19, these services would regularly support older people in their daily lives – such as giving them a call to prompt them to take their medication, ensure they are supplied with the essentials or even just be at the other end of the phone call for chat.

The value of those chats are much more heightened now given the wall-to-wall coverage of coronavirus and the measures now taken by government to try to mitigate its effects.

“Staying at home is a bigger feature around a helpline on Covid-19. There’s a whole heap of misinformation going around about coronavirus,” Moynihan said. “We have people watching updates every hour, and their anxiety levels are rising.

Being able to ring somebody who has the time to talk it through and explain what it all means. It’s invaluable for some people.  And, as well, we’re demystifying it for people too. As the public health advice changes, we have to adapt the advice we’re giving.

He said that the current crisis is something “we’re all having to adjust to” and it was important to look at ways to help each other and keep each other safe.

That advice given to older people on the phone is provided by trained social care staff backed up by the volunteer network. 

“You’d be amazed at older people well into their 80s are clued in about it,” Moynihan said. “They’re stoic, but they’re making sensible decisions. Some just need a bit of help.”

When each person rings – with concerns like stockpiling, self-isolation, what happens if they get symptoms all coming up – staff on the helpline decide if that person requires a follow-up call in the coming weeks.

“Some of these people – we’ll ring them every day,” the Alone boss said. “Some cases can be more complex than others. Everybody needs the right level of support.”

That may amount to a daily check in to make sure they have all the food, supplies and fuel they need. If they don’t, Alone will work with a network of other agencies around the country to try meet that person’s need.

The calls could be less frequent check ins to make sure the older person is doing alright amid the ongoing situation.

What we’ll do now is a lot more of check in on phones, driving human contact and we’ll be pushing forward with that next week on food, heat and finance.

Moynihan said: “We could have all kinds of cases. An older person may have to self-isolate because a family member gets the virus. That person who gets it may not get very ill but that older person might. It’s something we all have to keep in mind.”

Moving forward

Moynihan reiterated that the crisis has seen agencies come together in a manner not seen before. 

“We’re really knocking down doors,” he said. “No agency can do this on their own.”

Looking ahead, he believes that this level of cooperation could even be a positive that’ll come from this current situation.

“People are brilliant, they’ve really stepped up. The advice is to be smart. Inform ourselves.

Be kind and support each other. A bit of that needs to be done. If we can slow this down, the systems will hold. Keep calm and keep going.

Alone’s support line is available to all older people, and those who have concerns about an older person close to them, Monday-Friday, 8am-8pm, on 0818 222 024

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