ALONE, the organisation which supports older people, has highlighted the need for increased home care services across the country, enabling older people to remain at home as they age.
The organisation remains concerned about the hidden impacts of COVID-19 on the older people who use its services. ALONE has stated that current home care services must be improved to meet the ever-rising demand for older people to age safely at home, and that long-term plans must be developed to achieve this as the rippling effects of the pandemic advance further.
Many older people are experiencing increased frailty and loss of muscle mass as a result of extended periods of cocooning during the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to increases in the number of falls and other injuries related to inactivity. Long periods of physical inactivity while cocooning can cause ‘deconditioning’ and loss of muscle mass, resulting in an increased fall risk among older people. ALONE is encouraging older people to try to take light exercise, outdoors if possible, to maintain good physical health. Each year, one in every three adults age 65 and older falls, mostly at home, and falls are the leading cause of injury, disability, and admission to nursing homes for this group.
ALONE is continuing to push for the nationwide implementation of the Sláintecare model, as the organisation believes that in order to ease pressure on health services, Ireland must increase capacity in the number of hospital and ICU beds available, along with rolling out and encouraging the uptake of flu vaccinations and others for preventable diseases. The organisation has also encouraged the new Government to proceed with implementing the new mental health policy, and ensure that it has the necessary funding available to fully respond to the mental health issues arising from COVID-19 and beyond, and that a national plan for addressing loneliness is developed with the proper funding.
ALONE support the urgent review of nursing homes as proposed by the Oireachtas Special Committee on COVID-19, should a second wave of the virus occur. More than 50 percent of all COVID-19-related deaths occurred in nursing homes, and ALONE believes that plans should be put in place to ensure adequate staffing levels and infection control in the event of a second wave, to protect older people with increased vulnerability to the virus.
The home care sector has also suffered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many home care workers losing pay during the pandemic despite the fact that the HSE agreed to pay providers who had to take time off work to self-isolate. Many clients of homecare service providers cancelled their care hours in order to cocoon and protect themselves from the virus. In addition to this, many home care workers lost pay while self-isolating after coming into contact with a positive case of COVID-19. This resulted in some care workers experiencing a significant loss of income and put them under financial pressure.
“We are trying to get the message across that home care services need to be escalated to meet the increasing demand for older people to age at home. There must be an emphasis put on creating a system with longevity, both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. The emergence of COVID-19 has highlighted the continuing need for a whole-Government approach which must extend beyond the current crisis. We need an overarching health and social care strategy that helps to inform and integrate existing strategies regarding health and social care.”
“Nursing homes are not a desirable alternative, services need to tilt towards allowing people to age at home. The backlog of supports needed must be addressed urgently, and it is vital that the appropriate services are available to older people in their communities. Many older people need support as they readjust from the inactivity and isolation of cocooning, in order to achieve this we need to see the appropriate support structures in place,” ALONE CEO Seán Moynihan said.
The organisation is also advocating for a social recovery plan to run alongside an economic one, should the economy continue to suffer the effects of COVID-19. As many older people in Ireland are now living below the poverty line, ALONE believe that it is necessary to ensure a quality standard of living, which will in turn help to ease pressure on healthcare services. More attention must be given to further housing and care options, as nursing home care, while vital to those with complex needs, should not be the only option available to older people.