ALONE helps families to connect

Little things can make a big difference for elderly.
ALONE helps families to connect

ALONE helped to connect older hospital patients with their families with the help of smartphones during lockdown. Picture: iStock
ALONE helped to connect older hospital patients with their families with the help of smartphones during lockdown. Picture: iStock

WHEN Maria Colgan’s grandchildren visited at the end of May, it had been two months since the retired medical secretary had seen Clodagh, four, and Henry, 22 months. “Not except on Zoom – my son, Shane, set up the call every Friday evening. It worked well.”

But it couldn’t compare to seeing the children in Rathfarnham-based Maria’s garden. Clodagh brought flapjacks she’d baked with her mum, a nurse “working on the coalface”.

“Clodagh has grown so much! She’s very articulate. She said ‘Nana, we have to keep a distance – the bugs are still around’. We’re very close. She’s full of stories – I missed that. I’ve minded her since she was a baby and she’s stayed over with me. You build a close bond with the first grandchild.”

Henry, Maria says, has got very tall and has a lot more words. “He was so excited arriving into Nana’s garden. Shane said, when they came off the M50, he kept saying ‘Nana’s house, Nana’s house’.”

And while it was “terrible” not to be able to hug them or pick them up and swing them round (“we just had an elbow touch”), a big highlight was having the children FaceTime with Granddad – Maria’s husband, Brendan – in hospital since Covid-19 started. Brendan got Parkinson’s disease in 1993, at 44, and now has early dementia.

The grandchildren have visited him many times in hospital, but not since February. He was thrilled to see them on the video call. Clodagh was showing him an ice pop she had.

When the hospital closed to visitors in early March, Maria was very distressed, wondering how she’d keep in touch with her beloved husband. With hospital staff busy – and English not the first language for many of them – Maria confided her concerns about maintaining contact with Brendan to older people’s organisation ALONE.

“ALONE rang three weeks later to say they had a phone for Brendan and they brought it to him. It’s a smartphone. He hadn’t used a phone since 2010 – he doesn’t have dexterity in his fingers. That phone has been a lifesaver. Staff make the call for him and leave the phone with him. He’s able to follow it.”

With older people now able to receive visitors to their homes, ALONE has reinstated home visits by support and befriending volunteers, once volunteer and older person are comfortable doing so, using recommended protective measures. Throughout Covid-19, ALONE volunteers provided support in form of phone calls, practical assistance (e.g. getting groceries) and – more recently with restrictions easing – outdoor visits and walks.


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