How ALONE Supports Older People
While many older people in Ireland lead busy, active lives, others sadly find themselves feeling isolated and lonely. Maybe they have no family, or their sons, daughters, brothers and sisters are living too far away for regular contact.
How Loneliness Affects Us
“Loneliness affects older people from all kinds of socio-economic backgrounds”, begins Pauline Costello, Fundraising Manager at ALONE. “They might have a lovely big house in an affluent area, but they’re living on their own and feel isolated.” That sense of isolation – along with concerns around things like needing to get something from the shop or having a prescription filled – can lead to anxiety and depression. “They may end up not feeding themselves properly”, says Pauline, “which of course has an impact on their overall wellbeing.”
The Befriending Programme
To help counter that sense of isolation, ALONE runs an incredible ‘Befriending’ programme, which sees over 3,000 volunteers connecting with vulnerable older people in their area. “Volunteers sign up online”, Pauline explains, “and are matched with an older person in their area who has similar interests, like gardening or cooking.” The volunteer receives training, and then commits to regular weekly visits with their older partner, maybe just to chat, or in many cases, help with household chores or do some shopping. "Lots of fantastic friendships have grown out of the programme”, says Pauline. “It’s been proven that volunteering has benefits for both parties, in terms of improving health and wellness. Many volunteers become like part of the family.”
The Impact of Covid
Unfortunately, the pandemic meant that volunteers could no longer meet up with their older partners, leaving them feeling once again quite isolated. ALONE quickly developed some tools to help fill the gap. “We set up a National Support Line to offer support to those who felt alone during lockdown.” There was also a fantastic partnership with Vodafone, which helped older people gain the advantages and value of technology as part of the supports offered by ALONE. “They could access training to learn how to use a laptop, tablet or phone. And we supplied them with technological tools that they felt would enhance their life – home devices like Alexa for example help many older people feel less alone.”
While volunteers also kept in touch during lockdown via telephone and video calls, the Befriending programme is returning to how it functioned pre-pandemic. Even if you’re not able to take part in the service yourself, Pauline says there's still lots you can do. “Keep an eye out for an older person in your community”, she adds. A friendly offer to go to the shop, help in the house, or simply just lending an ear for a quick chat will mean the world to them.
Find out more about ALONE and the Befriending programme here.