Thursday 23 May 2019

Lonely elderly people ordering goods they don't need just to chat with postman

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Louise Walsh

Lonely elderly people are ordering from catalogues just so they can have a conversation with the postman.

But one school is tackling community isolation in an innovative new programme that brings together pupils and older people.

Eureka Secondary School in Kells, Co Meath, is calling on the Department of Education to roll out its social inclusion 'Never Home Alone' programme to all schools nationwide.

"Loneliness is one of the most unrecognised health crises of modern times," said student project manager Nora Barry.

"We have more opportunities to connect to one another through technology than ever before. However, in this - the most interconnected period in history - people are lonelier than ever.

"All medical and scientific research shows that loneliness is as fatal as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it more dangerous than obesity.

"One woman told us the heartbreaking story of how she sits by her window hoping someone will come knocking on the door for a chat and she looks through catalogues to order stuff so she could talk to the postman. It's terrible to think that this is happening in 2019 in Ireland."

Over eight weeks in Kells, transition year students concentrated on various activities which helped connect the generations and address the issue of loneliness and associated mental health problems.

Students and older people engaged in a mix of activities such as dancing, bowls, arts and crafts, music bingo, cooking and even karaoke.

"For me, it's the best part of my life," said 80-year-old wheelchair-bound Michael O'Connell. "I worked hard all my life and I lost my wife nearly 20 years ago. I'm meeting all these young people now and I don't feel anything during the day, but young.

"I know other elderly people and I know it can be hard. When you get stuck in that mindset, it's hard to get out of it again and this programme allows you to feel appreciated, feel a sense of belonging and to feel alive again."

Teacher Stephen McKee is urging the Government to push the project nationwide in a bid to curb social exclusion and encourage friendship between the generations.

"All too often, you hear the elderly giving out about the youth or the youth disrespecting the elderly," he said. "Both generations have so much to offer each other and it's so important skills are shared and a joint appreciation built.

"We all have a responsibility to help the vulnerable."

Irish Independent

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