Making sure older people aren't alone
National charity takes over work pioneered in Dundalk
Alone, the national charity set up by Dublin fireman Willie Bermingham to care for older people living on their own, has taken over the pioneering work initiated by DkIT in Dundalk.
Projects developed by the Network/Casala Centre in conjunction with Louth County Council led to the Wee County being named as Ireland's first Age Friendly County.
This collaboration led to the opening of the Great Northern Haven, a residential project using the latest technology to allow older people to live at home, as well as the Good Morning Louth volunteer service.
Now, ten years after the county's Age Friendly Strategy was first launched, Alone has taken over the pioneering volunteer work as unit at DkIT has moved on to other research projects.
'DkIT has got national recognition for its work around technology and research into the needs of older people,' explains ALONE's CEO Sean Moynihan. 'We agreed to take over the social projects which they had initiated as they were no longer able to continue them when funding for those particular research projects came to an end.'
'We decided that the work being done was so good and we would employ the staff so that the work would continue in Dundalk and also to expand it throughout Louth.' 'At the moment we have four staff and around 67 project volunteers visiting and befriending older people in Louth, as well as operating the Good Morning Louth telephone befriending service which operates out of Seatown,' says Sean.
'This has become a model that has been copied in other counties and we couldn't have had a situation where that would have disappeared,' he says of the organisation's decision to expand its work to the Wee County. 'Our decision honours the work done locally already and builds on it as it was something of huge value and it was important that it wasn't lost.#
There are, he points out around 16,000 people over the age of 65 in Louth, of whom a quarter or 4,000 are living on their own, and with Ireland's population set to age in the coming years, the services of organisations such as ALONE will be needed more than ever.
'While there are plenty of older people living active lives and contributing to their communities, around one in ten of those over 65 struggle with isolation and loneliness to such an extent that it can shorten their lives,' says Sean.
'These older people are living on their own and perhaps their families are living away or have their own struggles, so they need help with transport, social issues or medical problems. This is where ALONE will step in and give assistance and support.'
Sometimes this will be short term intervention to put in place the measures needed so that an older person can be discharged from hospital into their own home.
'We can help with the steps needed so that they can return home, or if their house can't be made suitable, we can help them move into a new place, contacting the local meals on wheels service, GPs and healthcare teams.'
He points out that even where there are family members willing to help, many older people don't want to be a burden on their loved ones and wish to retain their independence. This is where ALONE can step in, providing advice and information on the services they need.
Sadly, many older people are being caught up in the housing crisis currently gripping the country.
'House ownership is disappearing and older people fare badly in the rental market where rents are rising and they only have a basic income or pension,' explains Sean.
While ALONE previously concentrated its efforts in the big cities, Sean says it was decided to expand its operations up and down the country, in urban and rural areas, about five or six years ago in response to growing reports of isolation among older people.
'We have set up a network of agencies that we work with so either we are providing the services or we are training them to do the work.'
The volunteers who give of their time are a vital part of ALONE. 'It's great for older people to have someone from their own community calling on them, someone with a local voice, who knows the local area.'
'The volunteer community are sending out a message that they value older people,' he says. The snowstorms of last winter saw communities rallying around their older neighbours, checking in on the and delivering food. Equally, the current heatwave is also putting elderly people at risk, making the services of ALONE all the more important. 'It is a dangerous time and we are out working hard making sure that all our older people are okay,' says Sean.
Anyone who would like to get involved with ALONE as a volunteer should contact the organisation at 76 Seatown, Dundalk or phone 042 9330103.