Features

Aid for the alone
Victoria Holthaus examines the work a charity helping the elderly live independently
ALONE, the charity that supports older people to age at home, recently celebrated its 40th anniversary at an event hosted by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Brendan Carr in City Hall, Dublin.
Photo: Jason Clarke

Older people of Dublin North City and County will no longer be lonely with the expansion of ALONE’s support services to their area. The charity, which supports older people in their choice to age at home, has partnered with HSE to further this mission.

“Repeated studies have demonstrated that ageing at home is the first choice of older people and their families. Our Support Coordination Service addresses issues faced by older people living in their own homes and works with statutory bodies, community organisations and other service providers to ensure that the older people get what they deserve,” says Sean Moynihan, CEO of ALONE.

Gary Blanchard, a Support Coordinator for ALONE tells The Irish Catholic “It’s traditionally quiet (in Dublin North City and County) and we’re trying to bring service to them and spread there. It’s easier access to the work.”

The charity’s Support Coordinators assist older people who live in various accommodation types, including privately owned, privately rented and social housing. They aim to answer and address issues that impact older people’s ability to remain living independently in their own home. 

Volunteers assist in attaining access to money for clothing and addressing living conditions that might be unsafe, or creating a connection between older people and community services. Gary has been with ALONE for over four years working with older people in crisis, a lot of the time due to “chronic loneliness”.

“These are people who are cut off from the community. It really impacts not only their physical health but their mentality as well,” he says.

To help in combatting this, Gary along with the many other volunteers help these older people through many different services. From helping throughout the entire process of a bathroom adaptation report to something as minor as getting someone to cut their grass, these volunteers “don’t say no to anyone over 60”.

“A lot of people aren’t aware of their entitlements like applying for pension,” he says. “Although we are a charity, we don’t do charity work. We help people to get what they are entitled to.”

According to Gary, volunteers go through training sessions before they are assigned and are asked to stay for a minimum of a year. They are advised a meeting time at first but are free to do what is best for both parties after a connection has been established.

He says 50% of referrals come from the older people themselves. “It’s a very brave thing to pick up the phone and say to a stranger that you’re lonely. It’s a very brave thing and that’s why we have a gentle process and we’re very welcoming.”

For John Brown, he was referred to ALONE by a nurse during his recovery at the hospital. He has now been a tenant in ALONE’s supportive housing and a user of the befriending service for five years. 

“I was very much alone at the time. My wife was taken away from me. She’s in the nursing home and I had been looking after her. So it was hard for me after that,” he says. “It’s helpful knowing I’m getting somebody coming around once a week to help me with shopping. I can hardly walk these days.”

Volunteer

Once John called ALONE he was interviewed to see which volunteer would be the best fit for him. He found it easy to connect with his volunteer saying, “They were very careful. My volunteer is a lad who has even been to Africa the same as me”. 

While this has been the only volunteer assigned to John, others have come by to visit him “but that’s just because they like me”.

John has also taken part in activities organised by ALONE like their holidays. “They’re quite fun. We did a tour of a theatre and I used to work in a theatre doing spotlights back in London in the 60s. So that was a particular interest to me. It’s a big outing and it’s nice to get out.”

ALONE, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, has supported thousands of older people through issues of loneliness, social isolation, and housing, lack of services, poor health, poverty and homelessness. These services are provided 365 days a year through programmes such as Support Coordination, Housing with Support, Befriending and Campaigning. With the expansion of these programs to the Dublin North City and County, more members of the community will be able to receive the benefits.

Mary Walshe, Head of Social Care HSE, says “It is important that older people feel supported in receiving the care they need and to live in a place of their own choosing. This new partnership between ALONE and the HSE will enhance the supports and services offered to older people in the community and ensure that all older people in the area have access to these services.”