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Author: Society of St. Vincent de Paul
Published on 07 September 2011 12:00 PM

Loneliness is the biggest individual problem faced by older people living alone, according to a new report, “Older people - experiences and issues” published by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVP).

It is particularly acute in rural areas with a reduced level of human contact as a result of declining public services, such as the closure of post offices and reductions in other local services including transport.

This report on the experiences and issues of older people in Ireland also covers their attitudes to growing old, the younger generation, family links, income support, crime, housing, religion and employment.

A particular problem highlighted in the study was the lack of transport services to hospitals and other medical appointments. In rural Ireland, where hospitals or health services were closed, ambulance or transport services were not provided in their place. The researchers heard numerous examples of older people obliged to make long, difficult and sometimes stressful journeys to hospitals at great personal expense. Poor public transport was identified, as a significant problem in built-up urban areas as well as rural areas.

Having enough money is also a major issue for older people. Those who received the State pension told the SVP researchers that they were “just able to manage” And the threat of fuel poverty was of great concern to many consulted.

The SVP study also found that the feeling of getting old was only noticed as ailments, stiffness or more recurring health problems began to develop. The loss of a partner, retirement from the workforce or becoming a grandparent were other important points of transition.

However older people’s attitude to old age was generally very positive. The message of ‘active’ fit old age has been firmly embraced. They regarded themselves as fortunate and Ireland as a good place in which to grow old.

“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, this is a very wide social issue,” said SVP National President, Mairead Bushnell.

“As this study shows older people especially disliked robotic telephone answering systems used by public and private companies which, they felt, reduced personal contact. To keep in touch, many older people use mobile phones, mainly for calls and a smaller proportion for texting. Few people we talked to used personal computers or the internet,” she said.

The purpose of the research was to understand the experience of being an older person in Ireland today and to draw out the implications both for Government policy and the work and development of services of the SVP itself.  Almost 600 people were interviewed in 43 different urban, provincial and rural areas by independent researchers, Kathy Walsh & Brian Harvey.

The research was a qualitative exploration into the lives of a broad sample of older people, many of whom are assisted by SVP, are harder to reach and more vulnerable than in surveys of older people in general. The research was carried out using a robust methodology. An SVP Commission of Older People oversaw this research project, which was funded by Atlantic Philanthropies and evaluated by social research consultant, Niall Watters.

Read more opens link in new window www.svp.ie/news

For more information: Call Age NI Advice: 0808 808 7575