ALONE, the organisation which supports older people, has collaborated with The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA ) to publish a report examining loneliness and isolation among over-70s during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report, published today by TILDA, focuses on the impact of public health measures such as ‘cocooning’ on the mental and physical health of older people who are struggling with loneliness.
The joint report offers new insights into the experiences of those over 70 who were advised to ‘cocoon’ as part of public health advice to limit the spread of the virus. The report uses data from ALONE to compare feelings of loneliness, anxiety and isolation in older adults before and during the pandemic.
The organisation’s National Support Line was instrumental in compiling much of the information in the report, with 75 percent of callers living alone and 55 percent advised to cocoon. ALONE believes that current measures such as social distancing and cocooning are increasing levels of loneliness and social isolation among many older people, which may have a negative effect on their physical and mental wellbeing.
During the pandemic, ALONE saw a rise in callers reporting negative emotions, including suicidal ideation. Loneliness was found to have a negative effect on mental health and was associated with depressive symptoms in older people. Physical health was also negatively affected as a result of lockdown measures, with calls indicating that older people living with chronic illnesses were limited by strict cocooning measures, and many individuals were apprehensive to attend medical appointments in case they came into contact with a carrier of the virus.
ALONE provides Support and Befriending services for older people with the support of more than 2,500 volunteers. The organisation also coordinates Befriending Network Ireland, a national support network for befriending services across Ireland. ALONE was a founding member of the Loneliness Taskforce, which was established to coordinate a response to loneliness and social isolation in Ireland. ALONE’s day to day work continues, with staff and volunteers supporting thousands of older people, as well as working with Local Authorities to deliver practical supports.
The Oireachtas Special Committee on COVID-19 response meets today with the Mental Health Commission to examine the impact of COVID-19 on the demand and delivery of mental health services in Ireland. ALONE want to ensure older people are not forgotten when it comes to supporting and funding them in their re-emergence and recovery from cocooning, due to the impact it has had on their mental health at this time.
“The arrival of COVID-19 in Ireland emphasised existing issues while further alienating some older people; we have seen a huge increase in loneliness among older people as a result of the isolation experienced while cocooning. ALONE’s coordinated National Response to the COVID-19 pandemic allowed us to respond immediately to the newly emerging concerns and existing issues being raised by older people.
“We adapted all of our services to ensure that we could keep them running during the pandemic. We established a loneliness taskforce to ensure we were putting provisions in place to safeguard older people, both now and into the future. It is important for members of the public to remember that loneliness can happen to anyone and can take a toll on both your physical and mental health. We hope that we can work towards breaking down this stigma and focus on the people behind the percentages.
“Loneliness and social isolation are two of the greatest health risks for older people today. Research shows that loneliness and social isolation are harmful to our health and are worse for us than well-known risk factors such as obesity and physical inactivity.
“I would like to remind any older person that is struggling at the moment that supports are available to them through ALONE and Local Authorities across the country. If you are struggling at all over the coming weeks and months, please do not hesitate to reach out and seek help,” ALONE CEO, Seán Moynihan, stated.
ALONE is encouraging older people who need advice to call ALONE on, 0818 222 024 from 8am-8pm, seven days a week. Contact ALONE on 0818 222 024 if you have concerns about your own wellbeing, or the wellbeing of an older person you know. Further information can be found on www.alone.ie