AS Ireland starts to experience life without lockdown, ALONE is asking everyone to continue to show care while respecting older and medically vulnerable people’s boundaries.
There are a lot of people across the country today and in the near future that are unable to throw caution to wind as Covid-19 is still present and infecting people.
The organisation has continually emphasised the need for a plan for older adults to be established as Ireland navigates through the Government’s plan for living with Covid-19, and is calling on Government to start developing a re-emergence programme for older people, socially and medically vulnerable groups immediately.
The declining levels of physical activity amongst older people during the pandemic is of particular concern to ALONE. The organisation is also highlighting that although the Government has relaxed the majority of restrictions a lot of services and supports for older people are not fully operational and will take time to scale up to the levels needed.
Many older people have experienced increased frailty and loss of muscle mass as a result of extended periods of social isolation.
This has led to increased number of falls and other injuries related to inactivity. Long periods of physical inactivity can cause ‘deconditioning’ and loss of muscle mass, resulting in an increased fall risk among older people. Each year, one in every three adults aged 65 and older falls, mostly at home. These falls are the leading cause of injury, disability and admission to nursing homes for this group. There needs to be supportive advice shared with older people so that they can safely re-emerge into society.
Huge attention needs to be brought to the home care sector which has suffered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many clients of homecare service providers cancelled their care hours in order to stay safe, limit their contacts and protect themselves from the virus. Not only this, but many older people had their home care cancelled early on in the pandemic and it has yet to be reinstated. ALONE believe that supports for older people need to be put in place quickly so that older people have a chance to resume a normal life while they also believe increased supports are needed for home care workers in order for them to continue the valuable service they provide.
While people attempt to resume to their normal lives over the coming weeks, there is one stand out issue older people will continue to experience while the public will see it slowly diminish, loneliness.
Loneliness is still a major issue and continues to be endemic in Ireland and the Covid-19 response of encouraging people to socially isolate has increased these levels to new extremes.
This highlights an urgent need for a national plan to address loneliness. The Loneliness Taskforce is a coalition of organisations and individuals who work to address loneliness at a sectoral level. The purpose of the Taskforce is to increase awareness of loneliness and to continually advocate for policy change to address loneliness at local and national level.
ALONE has reported that calls to its National Support and Referral Line reflect an enthusiasm to return to normal but people are very wary that the virus is still around. Some of the older people ALONE work with have been in a constant state of social isolation for nearly two years now and are nervous at the pace of easing given the uncertainty of the pandemic and its variants.
Older people have been dealing with the repercussions of social isolation and still have a long-road ahead to rebuilding their confidence and reintegrating into society. ALONE’s primary concern is that they are adequately supported in their re-emergence with proper care and plans in place.
Now is the time to consider how we can best ensure older people’s safety as they begin to return to society. The pandemic will have detrimental physical and mental health effects on our older people as they have had to drastically change the way they live in order to shield themselves from the virus. 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.
It is up to all of us to support and empower older people to take a full part in our society post- pandemic. We must ensure to ask older people what they are comfortable with before we welcome ourselves into their homes or lives.
Contact ALONE if you have concerns about your own wellbeing, or the wellbeing of an older person you know. Their National Support and Referral Line is available seven days a week from 8am – 8pm on 0818 222 024. Further information can be found on www.alone.ie.