Cork service finds some elderly people 'still afraid, anxious after virus’

Most Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted and many older people are nervous as a result, or depressed because of what they suffered in lockdown
Cork service finds some elderly people 'still afraid, anxious after virus’

"Covid has not gone away, it is still with us and people must realise — relatives, neighbours, and family members — that what our elderly citizens went through was a desperate experience."

SOME elderly people are “still very nervous” because of the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, according to a service that provides daily phone calls to older people or people who are lonely, isolated, and vulnerable.

Friendly Call Cork, a programme developed and managed by Cork City Partnership, is receiving new referrals every week and its volunteers are busier now than at any other time since it began in 2011.

The impact of Covid-19 increased daily call numbers to 380 (a 70% increase), with 70 volunteers still working remotely.

Referrals come from HSE staff, Cork City Council Community Call, ALONE, the gardaí, voluntary organisations, family members, and self-referral.

Brenda Barry, Friendly Call development worker, Cork City Partnership, in the Friendly Call Cork, Cork City Partnership Outreach office in Cork.
Brenda Barry, Friendly Call development worker, Cork City Partnership, in the Friendly Call Cork, Cork City Partnership Outreach office in Cork.

The service provides friendship and security to its clients to make them feel safer at home and, if a client does not answer the phone, the caller will phone a member of their family, a neighbour, or a friend, which Friendly Call’s Brenda Barry said “has literally saved lives”.

Speaking to The Echo, she said: “We are receiving new referrals every week and are busier now than at any other time since we started in 2011. 

"It is true that some people are still very nervous about Covid; we are all aware that it is still with us.

“I have to say that most of our clients are getting on with life and getting out and about, but in a safe way.

"Some clients have had, or are still getting, Covid and many clients know people who have Covid at the moment.

“I believe that we are still receiving a large number of referrals, because there is more of an awareness of Friendly Call Cork among HSE healthcare professionals, nurses, doctors, hospitals, social workers, occupational therapists, and so on.

“We also receive a number of referrals from mental-health services and also through Cork City Council community social-inclusion team, gardaí, voluntary organisations, family members, and self-referral.

“We are finding more and more individuals that are isolated and alone. This is certainly more evident since the beginning of Covid-19, but most of these people were in the same, or similar, position before the pandemic.

 Perhaps we, as voluntary and community organisations, are better known now as a result of the lockdown.”

Ms Barry said that there is “no doubt” that the pandemic and the lockdowns had a negative effect on older people and on people with underlying health issues, as regards feeling isolated and lonely; they lost their independence.

“As a team of volunteers, we are always striving to offer a ray of brightness to our lovely clients,” Ms Barry said. “The need for a service like ours is always going to be there.”

Major effect on some people 

Speaking about what elderly people experienced during the pandemic and continue to experience, an advocate of the elderly, Paddy O’Brien, said that it has had “a major effect on people”, some of whom, he said, have “never gotten over it”.

“Every conversation I have, I am making the comment that Covid has not gone away, it is still with us and people must realise — relatives, neighbours, and family members — that what our elderly citizens went through was a desperate experience.

“They were housebound for almost two years, they couldn’t have their own families and grandchildren visit them, they could not go to Mass.

“All they could do was wear a mask and go for a short walk.

“This has had a major effect on people and they’ve never gotten over it. People are still affected by this and elderly people are still depressed.

“Depression doesn’t go away easily and I think that something should be done about the situation with elderly people living alone, specifically.

“I have no medical background, but every day when I speak to elderly people, I speak to people who were once happy. I speak to people who were once bubbly and now most of the conversation is one-word answers and ‘why’? They’ve lost the will to live.

“They’re still hurting and in pain and what they experienced over the last two years was the worst experience of their lives,” he said.

Appeal to family and neighbours 

Mr O’Brien made a special appeal to family members and neighbours to look out for the elderly and especially for those living alone.

“Don’t think, for a moment, that you were kind because you spoke to your mother or father through a window or that you put a letter in the letterbox during Covid and have stopped doing that now and think they have recovered from that anxiety: No they haven’t.

“We have thousands of sick, elderly people still out there.

“The people I meet are still depressed, still sad, and still tired and terrified that it [a Covid surge] will happen again.

“An 82-year-old said she’d love to wake up some morning and say to herself, ‘It was all a dream’, but, instead, said it is a continuous nightmare she keeps having.

“She is reflecting and endorsing the sentiment expressed by every elderly person I meet. They are grateful for what they have, but there is still sadness out there and they have not gotten over the effects of the pandemic and some never will.

“This is something that never happened before. They were just stopped from doing everything.

“The most important thing now is trying to help people in what I would call the recovery stage. They need care and a bit of love from the people concerned about them.

“We must all begin again to be more concerned about the elderly. We must all begin again to knock on the door and ask them if they are okay,” Mr O’Brien said.

“You care for people when you ask if they want anything from the shop or offer them a lift to mass on a Sunday; just to show kindness.

“We all have the power to bring a bit of joy and happiness into people’s lives again by having some contact with people.”

Mr O’Brien said he admired the work of many volunteers and organisations in the locality, including Friendly Call, but said there are still many people waiting for a phone call, a knock on the door, or a kind person to show they care about them.

“We require more public-health nurses out in the community, also, especially for elderly people living alone who are the victims of real sadness and loneliness. They are the vulnerable people.

“We must think again about the elderly and keep contact and just let someone know they are being thought about.

“People talk about loneliness, particularly in rural areas across the country, but there are built-up areas in the city where people are even more lonely.

“There’s a high concentration of people in Cork City who are lonelier than the people living in the heart of the countryside, because there’s no contact with others. We must do more,” he said.

Those who wish to speak to someone or to help combat any loneliness or isolation can contact Friendly Call on 021 430 1700.

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