Planning for an ageing Ireland: Loneliness in old age

Demographers — and pension advisers — have been warning us about the implications of Ireland’s ageing population for some years but our response has been more head-in-the-sand than get-up-and-go.

Or fatalism dressed up, as is usual, as faux optimism means we have not begun to plan adequately for a situation where the number of people over 60 will more than double in the coming decades.

One issue already to the fore, and one that unless we tackle it will get worse, is the sense of isolation and, occasionally, vulnerability felt by older people, especially those living alone. A new freephone service, Senior Help Line, was launched yesterday to try to counter this phenomenon.

A 365-day-a-year freephone service will be open from 10am-10pm and will be manned by 170 specially trained volunteers.

The demand for this service already exists — in an earlier iteration the service dealt with up to 1,000 calls each month. One of the objectives is to support those who wish to continue to live independently.

However, the dominant issue raised by callers is loneliness and the hollowing impact it has on their lives — even in a time-poor, overly materialistic society that seems a failure of sorts.

It is not always possible to engage with people who jealously guard their privacy, but, despite or because of that, the smallest gesture can lift a person’s spirits far beyond any effort required to do so.

Smile and say hello.


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