So many older people across Northern Ireland are affected by isolation. It can happen for so many reasons - ill health, bereavement, depression, chronic shyness to name a few.
People retreat inwards, stop leaving the house, neglect themselves and lose their self-worth. So begins a domino effect that can cause even more problems. My job is to help reignite the confidence and independence that they once had so that they start to see themselves as ‘good enough’ again. So many vulnerable older people that I work with think that they are worthless.
The role of the Age NI First Connect Coordinator is incredibly unique. So many clients are amazed by the service. We have a wide level of knowledge which means that we can help people deal with issues as simple as having no smoke alarm to helping them access the warmth and companionship of a day centre. We act as conduits, working out the help older people need, identifying the support they can get from statutory and community services in their area and making sure they access it.
I recently visited a client whose home was in a bad state. It was a mess, smelling of damp and the walls were black with mould. It’s not unusual to find a client in this state. Over winter time, however these issues can pose an even greater health risk. When I get a referral, that’s my opportunity to start providing the emotional support that older person needs and to begin the process of helping them to help themselves again. A phrase I hear often is, ‘It’s good enough for me’, meaning the person thinks they deserve their situation. It’s one of the saddest things I hear.
One of the biggest parts of my job is listening. I often get referred to a client for one reason, but they are usually struggling with many other underlying problems. As a result, I often work with directly with a client for many weeks, teasing out their concerns. It takes time to build trust and confidence and to help reverse the damage that isolation has caused. We encourage them to take the help they need then to contribute to their own recovery.
Getting older doesn’t mean that you stop having dreams and aspirations. Many of the people I meet have lost not just their confidence, but their hope for the future. I think that the job that my First Connect colleagues and I do is to give people back their ability to dream again.
Martin Walsh is an Age NI First Connect Coordinator. The Age NI First Connect Service specifically provides emotional support to older people at times of crisis in their lives.
Coordinators receive referrals from the Age NI Advice Service and Health Trusts. Martin works in the Southern Trust area which covers Armagh, Banbridge, Craigavon, Dungannon and South Tyrone, and Newry and Mourne.