Helpline for elderly receives record number of calls

One of the country’s largest helplines for the elderly logged a record amount of calls last year, with many of them relating to the security fears of pensioners in their own homes.

The Senior Helpline operated by Third Age received almost 30,000 calls in 2013, according to its training and development manager, Damian Leneghan.

The helpline is available between 10am and 10pm daily, and such has been the volume of calls, the service is now being centralised.

Issues of personal security and safety among the elderly population — and particularly those living in remote and rural areas — have arisen with reports this week of a Clare man who felt so afraid in his home that he cycled 50km through the night to check himself into a nursing home.

Ennis Circuit Court heard this week that Michael McMahon, a 68-year-old who had been living in Cree in West Clare, had been robbed twice in his home and no longer felt safe there.

Anne Dempsey of Third Age yesterday said that many of the calls to the helpline, which is now in its 16th year, were made by people experiencing similar worries.

“It is our largest volume of calls to date,” she said.

“In terms of how we experience issues of vulnerability on the helpline, it is an ongoing, underlying issue that comes to the surface now and again.”

She said stories such as the one involving Mr McMahon were triggers that prompted a “spike” in calls to the helpline.

“If you are older, vulnerable, and living alone, you feel that frisson of fear,” she said, adding that people sometimes call the helpline for company and advice.

Elderly people are advised against opening the door to strangers, and Ms Dempsey said many older people were “extraordinarily trusting”.

She said a number of individual crises had been averted through the use of socially monitored alarms, and that older people can avail of grant schemes for other safety devices such as perimeter lighting.

Mr Dempsey said Third Age was “concerned” with a recent announcement regarding the expansion of grant entitlements for home improvements, as it may mean a wider dispersal across applicants. This may result in individuals receiving less financial assistance, Third Age fears.

She added that cuts in recent years to other elements of social care had resulted in elderly people who live alone receiving fewer supports, and fewer visits, thereby increasing the risk of isolation.

Tom Scharf, director of the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology at NUI Galway, said there was “a strong element of truth” to reductions in home help and similar services lowering the level of social interaction experienced by some older people.

He said while research indicated that older people were less likely to be affected by crime but more likely to fear it, cutting services that allowed social interaction for the elderly was “a false economy”, as it increased the likelihood of older people needing expensive, institutional care.

* Senior Helpline: 1850 440444.

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