Telephone service eases loneliness

The Senior Help Line provides an important service for elderly people in Ireland, says Rachel Borrill.

LAST week, British TV presenter Esther Rantzen launched a telephone service for older people after being impressed by the Irish Senior Help Line.

Rantzen, who has spoken in detail about the crushing feelings of loneliness she felt after her husband Desmond Wilcox died in 2000, says the Christmas season can be very difficult for many older people.

“It is very emotional. Last Christmas I spoke to one gentleman who said I was the first person he had spoken to all day. I rang him back a couple of days later and I was the only person he had spoken to throughout the Christmas period,’’ she says.

Last year, Senior Help Line, the national confidential listening service for older people, received more than 28,000 calls, and it’s predicted this figure will rise in 2014. Established 15 years ago, the service is provided by over 300 trained older volunteers, working in 17 centres across Ireland.

The majority of callers are aged 66 to 75 years of age, male and living alone. Most of them complaining of feeling lonely, with nobody to talk to. Ita Moynihan, pictured below, who is 64 and a retired secondary school teacher from Leopardstown, Co Dublin became a volunteer for the Senior Help Line last year.

“I’ve always had an interest in talking with older people and I felt volunteering for the helpline was something I could do,’’ she says.

“I haven’t been shocked by anything yet. We would get most calls from people who are lonely and they just want to talk to somebody. We would also get a lot of repeat callers. You do get to know them. Even though it’s anonymous and confidential, you get to know their voices and their stories.’’

The service receives more calls on Christmas Day than any other day of the year. Again the majority would be from people who are by themselves, with nobody calling into visit.

“It is an awful thought really, that so many people are on their own at Christmas. So it can be comforting to speak to someone on the phone,’’ says Moynihan.

Every volunteer receives special training and a regular newsletter full of relevant information, keeping them updated with general issues affecting older people in Ireland.

The Senior Help Line volunteers will listen to any problem, but cannot offer advice, especially in family or marital conflicts.

“If it is practical advice, like their entitlements, then we can give them a number for the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. Or if someone is feeling very depressed, then we can give them a phone number for Aware. But we cannot make the calls for them,’’ says Moynihan.

Over the last few months, the situation for a lot of older people has got decidedly worst.

Apart from loneliness, says Moynihan, there are calls about family conflicts, children emigrating abroad, financial worries, marital problems and bereavement.

“Last week a lady simply said: ‘It was lovely to talk to someone and know that they were not going to shout at you.’

“Now that winter is coming, we have also had a lot of callers worried about the cost of heating and the range of cutbacks that have affected older people, like the cuts to the phone. These are big concerns for a lot of older people. It can be very hard to make ends meet.’’

* Senior Help Line is open every day of the years from 10am to 10pm. LoCall 1850-440444


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