Phone service seeks to help lonely and isolated older people in society

Ireland’s only national listening line for older people is helping some lonely and isolated people to live independent lives at home for longer.

Third Age’s Senior Help Line has changed its name to SeniorLine because it wants older people to know they do not have to have a problem to call them.

“We can contribute to keeping older people at home and engaged in their community if it is a viable option for them,” said Ann Dempsey, communications manager with Third Age.

Established almost 20 years ago, SeniorLine, a confidential service, receives nearly 1,000 calls every month from older people.

Ms Dempsey said they have taken the word “help” out of the service’s name to make it more accessible to older people, even those who just want a chat.

Minister of state for mental health and older people, Jim Daly, who launched SeniorLine, said providing a friendly listening service allows older people feel connected to others.

“What is so appealing about this service is that it is older people listening to older people, which I know is an aspect that is valued by those who use it,” he said. “It gives older people the facility to connect with others to talk through problems in confidence with trained volunteers and feel supported.”

The launch of the listening service is the culmination of a three-year development programme during which 170 volunteers were recruited and trained to deal with callers. An audit indicated that a lot of people are phoning the service for company and conversation.

SeniorLine receives core funding from the HSE and support from Atlantic Philanthropies, founded by US entrepreneur Chuck Feeney.

It is open every day of the year from 10am-10pm, and some people call it two or three times a day. People do phone the service with specific problems but, for many, it is for company and conversation. Some callers call just to be able to say goodnight to someone.

Eamon O’Shea, director of the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology at NUI Galway, said he wants to have a voice and be empowered to make decisions when he gets older.

“Personal development does not stop at a certain age,” said Prof O’Shea. “You are still relevant; you still have a meaning for someone.”

When Prof O’Shea evaluated SeniorLine 10 years ago, he found it was making a significant contribution to the health and wellbeing of older people at a relatively low cost. He recommended it become a branded national service and be part of a holistic model of healthy ageing for older people.

Ms Dempsey said they get a lot of callers from rural Ireland where there is no bus service and people spend many lonely hours without hearing another voice.

“They are the people who call us very frequently; they are very important to us, and we give them a lot of time,” she said. “We also have many regular callers — people who call us every day or several times a day.

“We do hear from people whose quality of life is quite poor. We never tell people what to do — we discuss whether it is better to keep worrying about something or do something about it. I remember speaking to someone on St Stephen’s Day two years ago. That person had not talked to anyone over Christmas.”

The freephone number is 1800 804591, but the low-call number, 1850 440444, is still available. A landline call will not cost more than 30c.


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