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Jump in calls to telephone service for older people

By Sarah Mac Donald - 02 April, 2020

Aine Brady, CEO of Third Age/SeniorLine and Damian Leneghan, SeniorLine Programme Manager at the launch of SeniorLine, Ireland’s national confidential listening service for older people. Picture Conor McCabe Photography.

A national telephone service for older people has seen a jump in calls from the elderly concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic and cocooning.

SeniorLine is Ireland’s only national dedicated peer-to-peer telephone service for older people.

Anne Dempsey, Communications Manager of Third Age Ireland, which operates the service, told CatholicIreland.net that SeniorLine is getting around “700 calls a week both from traditional callers who we know well who are generally lonely and living alone, and from a new cohort who are suddenly cocooned and find it very difficult.”

She said callers were looking for information, reassurance, advice, guidance and someone to talk to.

“With Covid callers we give time to listen and to keep company. We also provide our volunteers with twice daily updates on the virus, a mix of information including latest from the HSE, safe shopping, how to cocoon well, information on other community and voluntary services to help with shopping and so on.”

According to Anne Dempsey, the issue that is upsetting older people most at the moment is a general fear of the unknown, as well as anxiety around being older and perhaps having an underlying condition, not seeing family especially grandchildren, not being able to walk and have an independent life.

Many are concerned about themselves and their families in the pandemic as well as being worried over whether they may have COVID-19 related symptoms and more general concerns about adapting to a very different world.

Despite the lockdown, SeniorLine’s volunteers are continuing to offer their phone support daily from 10am till 10pm.

Anne Dempsey explained that all the service’s volunteers are trained older people.

“They receive five days training followed by mentoring on to the line, ongoing support and monthly CPD. They are trained to listen with empathy, to explore options with callers and to refer to other services as appropriate.”

Last year, SeniorLine received 10,000 calls from older people throughout Ireland.

Third Age Ireland as an umbrella organisation is also involved in another programme, Failte Isteach, which is a community project involving predominantly older volunteers welcoming migrants through conversational English classes.

The project provides the necessary language skills to new migrants in a student-centred, welcoming and inclusive manner.

A third programme AgeWell is developing in Leinster. It is a peer to peer befriending service in partnership with the HSE where the AgeWell companion will conduct home visits to older people to provide social engagement, and if required, act as a link to the healthcare system and local community services to promote health and build stronger connections between older adults and the services available to them in their community.

Asked what she felt the concern shown for the older generation throughout this CORVID-19 crisis says about Irish people’s attitude to the elderly, Anne Dempsey told CatholicIreland.net, “I think it shows that we are a kind and caring nation and that older people are rightly valued.”

SeniorLine was established 22 years ago. It is Ireland’s only dedicated peer to peer telephone service for older people. It has built up considerable expertise, and “many people tell us we are their lifeline,” Anne Dempsey said.

Seniorline is open 365 days a year, from 10am to 10pm at Freephone 1800 80 45 91.

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