A well-known advocate of the elderly has warned of the seriousness of loneliness in elderly people and has urged family members and neighbours to visit the elderly this New Year.
Paddy O’Brien, who has been an advocate of the elderly in Cork for decades, said that loneliness is again this year “a major problem in relation to the aged and those most vulnerable of those living alone who are housebound and have nobody to speak to”.
Mr O’Brien warned of the health complications in elderly people that are a direct result of loneliness and said that family members “must and should be more involved”.
I have been highlighting the serious problem of loneliness for many decades but regrettably I feel there are far more elderly people affected by loneliness today than before.
"This loneliness is creating serious health problems for our elderly population. They are anxious, sad and depressed directly as a result of loneliness and 22 months of being confined indoors as a result of the pandemic has not helped the elderly,” he said.
Mr O’Brien called on the Department of Health to recognise loneliness in people as “a serious illness”.
“Loneliness kills people and what I would say is that a lot of elderly people die of a broken heart and this broken heart, in many cases, has been inflicted upon them by their very own who have chosen to ignore them.
I have spoken to some elderly people who went days without speaking to anyone. These people are not people who live in remote parts of the country.
"The people I’m referring to live in the suburbs of Cork city with houses on both sides of them and sometimes they’re the loneliest ones of all.
“Family members must and should be more involved with the care of their elderly parents. They just cannot leave it to neighbours and voluntary organisations to care for them. They have a role to play and they should play that role,” he said.
He said that oftentimes, elderly who become residents in nursing homes are “almost forgotten about”.
“I am delighted to say that these people who do not have visits in nursing homes are compensated by the great love, care and attention received by the nurses and care staff of the nursing homes but I have for many years been visiting nursing homes and what strikes me forcefully on every occasion is the lack of visitors.
I must say, some families are exceptionally good and visit on a regular basis but regrettably they are the minority.
Mr O’Brien suggested that schools could also play “a very significant role” in combating loneliness in the elderly through a community care programme which he said would teach students the importance of visiting elderly and what it is to be old, what it is to be cast aside and forgotten about.
“If the school is in an area where there is a nursing home they’d visit the elderly residents and then as a result of that students themselves visit the elderly in their own time,” he said.