The Christmas period remains a challenging time of year for older people. But with the outbreak of coronavirus, and the risk it poses to older people making this a winter like no other before, now more than ever it’s vital Age UK is there for those with no one else to turn to.
The Age UK Advice Line is a central way to do this. And as Roger Evans, Advice Line Operations Manager at Age UK explains, this is the busiest time in the line's 22-year history. So how have the challenges evolved? And how do contributions to our winter appeal help the advice line to be there for older people most in need of support? Here Roger answers these questions and more.
How would you describe the Age UK Advice Line?
“The Age UK Advice Line is a national service offering in-depth, up-to-date responses to enquiries from older people, their families and carers. Its aim is to provide a continuous high-quality service, with calls often followed up with supporting printed materials offering information and advice.”
Can you explain the type of assistance the advice line provides?
“Initially we’ll provide information to callers – usually facts that are applicable to many people - from 8am–7pm, 7 days a week, including public holidays. The service is delivered from Age UK’s office in Ashburton, Devon.”
“There is light at the end of the tunnel – but we have to help older people get through winter first.”
Age UK's Charity Director Caroline Abrahams discusses the challenges of being there for older people during a winter unlike any before.
Pre-COVID, were the most common calls you dealt with at this time of year?
“Pre-COVID, the most common calls we received were questions around services available in their local area, benefits, and social care. Alternatively, they may relate to someone who’s experiencing loneliness and looking for someone to speak to regularly, or as it’s winter they may be having difficulties affording to heat their home.”
How has COVID changed the kinds of calls you are receiving now?
“Worries about COVID-19 have seen call handling times increase significantly. In many cases, callers have expressed feelings of extreme anxiety, brought on by their worries around catching the virus and the upheaval guidelines will cause. Calls will be about when someone will be able to see their family again; whether we can arrange a shopping delivery for them, whether it’s safe or not to collect their prescription. In some cases, sadly, calls will be about whether someone can go and see a partner or spouse who’s in hospital, dying, to say goodbye.”
How is COVID increasing loneliness among older people?
“With the festive period fast approaching and the second wave of the pandemic having hit the country, thousands more older people will be experiencing loneliness, having been separated from their families and friends to protect against coronavirus. As a result, we’ve experienced the most demanding period in the advice line’s 22-year history.”
What accounts can you tell us that illustrate how much the service changes lives?
“We often received feedback about the ways in which the service has had a positive impact on people. Here are a couple of recent examples:
‘I have just spoken to a lovely lady who has been helping an older lady in her area with getting care and support. She wanted to pass on her gratitude to Age UK for all of the great work that we do. Due to her contacting us she was able to help get the lady the higher rate of Attendance Allowance, get full time home care in place, and arrange for a number of other support services. She wishes us all well and hopes that we all have a very Happy Christmas’.
‘Absolutely lovely comments from a lady I just spoke to – her neighbour had a carer through the local Age UK when he came out of hospital, knowing he didn’t have much time left. She said that with Age UK’s help, he was able to have a wonderful last 6 months in his own home. On his last day, he sent her a message to say he’d been enjoying being out in his garden and was going to make an Ovaltine and go to bed. He then passed away peacefully in his sleep. She is extremely grateful to Age UK for enabling him to have such a good end to his life and is so happy that she can call on us for help as well now that she needs it’.
What can you tell us about the team answering the calls? What makes them so special?
“The advice line has been described by some as the fourth emergency service. That’s lovely, but it’s not quite the case! What’s undeniable, though, is how special our team is. They are people who share a passion for delivering outstanding service to improve the lives of older people, their families and carers. They’re an amazing, knowledgeable, dedicated and welcoming bunch.”
How do donations make a difference to the work of the advice line?
“Every donation made this Christmas helps to ensure the Age UK Advice Line can continue helping older people, not just during these very challenging times but every day of every year.”
What message would you like to send to those who are supporting Age UK this Christmas?
“All of us will know an older person living on their own. That person might remain physically active and maintains a social life, but maybe not. Perhaps their TV or radio is their only means of connection with the outside world. By supporting us this Christmas, you’re helping Age UK be there for those older people who need us most. You’re helping to change their lives for the better. Because no one should have no one.”
Now more than ever, no one should have no one
If there was ever a time when Age UK’s services were desperately needed, it is now. We cannot let older people suffer alone. Not this year. Not ever. But we need help urgently if we're to be there for the thousands depending on us this Christmas.