Many older people have become so used to cocooning that they are no longer leaving their homes and are at risk from falls because of lack of exercise, the coordinator of a Friendly Call service has warned.
Brenda Barry, Co-Ordinator of Friendly Call Cork, whose army of volunteers ring 360 people a day, says that pensioners should be encouraged to leave their homes whilst keeping within the restrictions and staying safe.
"We are trying to get people to go out even to do a little bit of their own shopping. Not to be reclusive. Some people haven't left their houses since March. They are too afraid.
We are working with the Council to try and encourage people to exercise. People are sick of being inside. But they are anxious and don't really want to go out either.
We are seeing a big increase in falls because the elderly are not getting exercise. They are not going places or meeting people. If they were only going out for their pension or a cup of tea or going to the shops they were getting out.
Supervalu and Centra are great for deliveries and of course you have Meals and Wheels but people have stopped going out. Many are just sitting in the chair waiting for it (Covid) to go away."
Ms Barry says arising out of Covid services such as the one she co ordinates are more visible and have seen a massive increase in usage.
Friendly Call Cork went from phoning 220 people every day at the start of the year up to 400 during the height of the first lockdown. The service links in with the local authority and Age Action to reach out to those in need.
They help source maintenance workers for pensioners or link them up with public health nurses or other services.
"If any one has a problem we try to find a way of sorting it. We are very busy. We have eight volunteers in training today who are willing to do calls over Christmas. We have about 60 volunteers at the moment. We always need more but we need to do Garda vetting or training.” Ms Barry says that many elderly people won't be invited to houses of extended family or friends over Christmas because of Covid 19.
"That call from us is going to be so important. Older people might be too anxious to go to other houses at Christmas or people might not feel comfortable inviting them."
The principle aim of Friendly Call Cork is to tackle isolation and loneliness among older people, those with physical and mental disabilities and those who are socially isolated.
Persons in Cork interested in being signed up to the free service or volunteering to be a caller can contact Brenda Barry on 021 430 1700 or 087 636 6407.
Meanwhile, Communications Manager with the nationwide Senior helpline, Ann Dempsey, says that with so many lonely empty hours of the day to fill the elderly often find themselves consumed with thoughts of the past.
"People who were separated or divorced many years ago say they are finding it very hard in a new way.
"The losses in Covid have triggered earlier sorrows. We are getting calls about abusive marriages present and past. The whole area of elder abuse. Worries about family. Loss of spouses many years ago.
"The sadness of today and the emptiness in people's lives is reminding them of earlier events and they are going back over things.”
Ms Dempsey says in such an unsettling time it is vital that people try to put some sort of structure in place for the day.
"Every day can feel hopeless and aimless. We talk to people about trying to put a structure in their day. One of the things would be to say to people to try and get out every day. Something amazing happens to us when we get out.
"When we get a walk in the fresh air something changes in our energy. We come home frequently a different person. A more positive person.
"We all need to feel we are moving forward in life. Anything at all to put a shape on the day. Baking a cake, tidying a drawer, washing a wall.
"If you are living alone try to make your home as nice as possible. It all helps. A lot of our calls are mentoring. Whatever their issue is is our issue."
She is urging people who are feeling intense loneliness to get in touch.
"Our calls have pretty much doubled. We had 10,000 calls last year. We are hitting 18,000 to 20,000 calls this year the way things are going. We invite people to call as often as they need.
"We will stay with them for as long as they want. More complex calls can last for over an hour. We just stay with the person. We don't give any advice. We just stay with people. Our model of listening is very effective. We can't solve the Coronavirus but we can be there for people."
SeniorLine is open every day of the year from 10am to 10pm at Freefone 1800 80 45 91.