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Opinion: Older people have lost their confidence during Covid - we cannot forget them

CEO of ALONE Seán Moynihan says we owe it to our older people to put the correct plans for re-emergence.

Image: Shutterstock/Solarisys

SINCE THE ARRIVAL of the Covid-19 pandemic in Ireland, older people have had to largely withdraw from society, with many postponing important and vital medical check-ups and appointments in order to protect themselves from the virus.

In ALONE, our network of staff and volunteers across the country have continued our work supporting older people to age at home.

To add to these services we launched the National Support Line in March 2020, in collaboration with the Department of Health and the HSE, for older people struggling during the Covid-19 pandemic.

During this time we have received more than 49,000 calls to the helpline and made more than 138,589 phone calls to older people who need support. Over 70% of the older people who have called our support line are living alone.

Many older people have also suffered negative impacts to their mental and physical health as a side effect of cocooning measures and reduced social contact.

Support is key

Older people have always been great contributors to our community; running various groups, local events, local clubs, businesses and volunteering in large numbers, so we need to ensure that we empower them all to return to the heart of the community.

Many older people who call our National Support Line are grateful to have received the vaccine and are looking forward to things returning to normal but are nervous and hesitant about re-emerging into society. 

This is due to what they feel is a lack of clear guidelines for older people and medically vulnerable groups. Some callers reported ongoing feelings of anxiety when out in public spaces, despite having been vaccinated against the virus.

So many services for older people have been closed, so much home care has been stopped, so many community organisations for older people are not active, so much confidence has been lost.

Life will not return to normal and the community will not recover without significant effort; like the economy, it is going to need care and attention to return to pre-Covid levels.

We believe that community groups and services for older people are integral to a successful re-emergence, as these will offer older people vital support within their community.

Reopening for everyone

It is therefore imperative that these services are encouraged to resume. Members of the public can also continue to support the older people in their lives by maintaining regular safe contact via phone calls, checking in on older people who may be feeling low, offering practical supports such as picking up groceries or running errands and respecting older people’s space and wishes.

Older people still have a huge challenge ahead of them in the weeks and months to come; the current Covid-19 Resilience and Recovery plan, ‘The Path Ahead’ contains no clear guidelines for older people.
There are still questions to be answered as to what further vaccination and easing of restrictions will entail for older people and the supports that will be available to them throughout this time.

Now is the time to consider how we can best ensure their safety as they begin to return to society. We believe a long-term re-emergence and community-building programme should be established as soon as possible, in order to facilitate the re-emergence of older people and socially and medically vulnerable groups into our society.

In order to devise this re-emergence programme, we have urgently requested the establishment of a stakeholder group for Older Adults, composed of representatives from Civil Society, Healthcare, Age Organisations, supportive groups for Vulnerable Adults and relevant Government Departments, to continually work to establish a plan around a re-emergence programme for older people and those within socially and medically vulnerable groups.

We must be prepared to listen to their worries and doubts, assess the actions that need to be taken and devise strategies on the best ways to protect these groups. 

We are calling on Government to begin working on this strategy immediately, as we know these things take time to implement and bring about change.

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It is vital that Government ensure the appropriate immediate supports are in place for older people as they begin to return to society, and take tangible action on the long-term issues impacting older people further highlighted by Covid-19.

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 so it is essential that they are supported throughout the pandemic and in its aftermath.

. is Contact ALONE if you have concerns about your own wellbeing, or the wellbeing of an older person you know. Their National Support Line is available seven days a week from 8am – 8pm on 0818 222 024. Further information can be found on www.alone.ie.

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