September 8, 2011

IRELAND: Loneliness remains the biggest issue for the elderly

CORK, Ireland / Irish Examiner / News / September 8, 2011

By Seán McCárthaigh

THE country might be going through unprecedented economic hardship but loneliness remains the biggest issue for the elderly.

A report on the attitudes of older people by the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) attributed an increasing sense of isolation, particularly in rural areas, to cutbacks in public services.

They also expressed widespread amazement at how badly hospitals and the health services in general are managed.

Older people blamed the closure of post offices and cutbacks to bus and rail services for their experience of a reduced level of human contact in recent years.

In particular, they expressed concern about the lack of transport services for visits to hospitals and other medical appointments.

The SVP said elderly people were forced to make long, difficult and stressful journeys, often at considerable personal expense, to access health services.

Many of those surveyed also complained of financial pressures, with those in receipt of just the state pension claiming they were barely able to manage.

"The state pension did not permit saving for a rainy day, emergencies, breakdown of appliances or repairs, and this was itself a form of poverty," the report said.

However, large numbers said they would forego fuel and food, especially meat, if they had to cut spending.

The report said many pensioners bitterly resented the discontinuation of the Christmas social welfare bonus and the introduction of stealth charges.

SVP president Mairead Bushnell said the research, involving interviews with almost 600 elderly people in 43 locations on the island, would act as a blueprint for the charity’s future work with the elderly.

"Although the SVP is working to combat loneliness by its system of personal visitation, services such as day centres, social housing and holidays, and the provision of personal alarms, it is a very wide social issue," said Ms Bushnell.

SVP said many people, especially in rural Ireland, felt it was a stigma to be seen to be seeking help from the SVP, while SVP members regularly felt overwhelmed by the scale of problems experienced by the people assisted by the charity.

Although many elderly people expressed fear for their personal safety and felt Ireland had become a more dangerous place, Mr Harvey said very few had been actual victims of crime.

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