Good morning Louth! A call service for people home alone

Part three of our ‘Surviving or Thriving’ series looks at innovative community health projects: A ‘Good Morning’ telephone call service and crime prevention ambassadors

 

Part three of our ‘Surviving or Thriving’ series looking at innovative community health projects.

For the first time in human history, there will soon be more people over the age of 60 than children under the age of five. By 2050, almost one in four people in Ireland will be over 60 and, contrary to popular perception, only about 5 per cent of this population is frail and dependent on full-time care.

The majority of older people still live in their own homes and as partners or siblings die, many of them are living alone. Some of these older people have regular contact with family and friends but others don’t.

Innovative projects such as the Good Morning Louth telephone call service and Crime Prevention Ambassadors go some way to keeping these people feeling safe in their own homes.

“It is a friendly phone call that people sign up for – a chat at prearranged times,” says Anne Murphy, the project co-ordinator of Good Morning Louth.

“Getting a call every day or a few times a week gives people a sense of confidence. Some people like to be called every day while others ask to be called once or twice a week. Monday is our busiest day.”

Murphy says that as well as a friendly chat, the caller will inform the older person about local voluntary and State services and supports that are available.

The group works closely with the Health Service Executive (HSE) and is managed by the Netwell Casala Centre in Dundalk Institute of Technology.

“We get referrals from public health nurses, community gardaí and the Cúltaca [support workers for older people who help people make their own care plans] at the Netwell Centre. For example, we speak to people when they come home from hospital. It’s nice to have someone regularly check in to see how they are and it gives family members great peace of mind,” explains Murphy.

The Good Morning Louth call service in Dundalk is run by about 50 volunteers who give two hours of their time between 9am-1pm from Monday to Friday. Each volunteer is Garda-vetted and supplies a character reference before undergoing training.

“I believe it is very important to support the volunteers so that they can walk away after they do their work,” says Murphy, who is the only paid person working with Good Morning Louth.

Martin is one of the volunteers. “I get enormous satisfaction from making the calls.

“Over time, I have built up rapport with different people and have become their friend. Sometimes, you can pick up on how they are feeling and offer information on what supports they might need. For example, if they need the flu vaccine or if they can apply for a grant to help heat their home.”

A similar free confidential telephone befriending service in Co Donegal was recently evaluated by researchers at Trinity College Dublin. Prof Brian Lawlor from Trinity says: “We know from research that loneliness and being isolated from friends and family can have about the same effect on how long you live as cigarette smoking and obesity.

“A lack of social engagement contributes about the same level of risk for developing dementia as lack of physical activity or depression. Our study showed how community volunteering services can help combat loneliness and isolation.”

The Crime Prevention Ambassadors is another initiative that offers safety and security information to older people living alone.

Initially run as a pilot project in counties Meath, Monaghan and Cavan as part of the Age Friendly Ireland initiative, there are plans to roll the scheme out to more counties through the community alert and neighbourhood watch scheme, Muintir na Tíre.

As part of the pilot scheme in Co Monaghan, 10 older people were trained by the local community Garda to provide other older people with information and advice on how to keep their homes secure. Similar to the telephone befriending services, the volunteers were Garda-vetted.

PJ Harte from Castleblaney, Co Monaghan, trained as a Crime Prevention Ambassador in Monaghan. “We each visited 10 people. We explained things like the value of having good locks on doors and windows and having alarm pendants. We also gave people the Bogus Caller Cards [cards that tradespeople are requested to fill out with contact details so that people can verify their details before employing them] to give to cold callers,” says Harte.

Last year, 300,000 Bogus Caller Cards were made available to older people through the Home Instead Senior Care organisation.

Harte says he thoroughly enjoyed the contact with the people he met. “I visited people a few times and got great satisfaction from speaking to them. The Garda told us that we are the eyes and ears of the community and a support for their work,” he says.

Vanessa Clarke from Muintir na Tíre says there has been very positive feedback about the Crime Prevention Ambassadors. “It works on several levels. It reaches out to people who might be isolated. It is an opportunity to deliver crime prevention advice and prevent sham callers. And, the volunteers have a great feel-good sense about what they do.”

Niall Garvey, chief executive of the organisation, says it is in discussion with the Department of Justice and Equality to fund more crime prevention ambassadors in counties around Ireland.

Can sharing a meal with an older person make a difference?

Two years ago, researchers at the Trinity College Dublin Institute of Neuroscience recruited volunteers to take part in a study looking at the impact of sharing a meal with an older person in his/her own home once a week.

The aim of the study was to investigate whether nutritious and socially engaged meals would improve people’s nutrition, enjoyment of food and belief in their abilities to look after themselves.

Other aspects of physical and psychological health were also examined.

Now, two years later, the results from this small study has found that the older people who received weekly visits at mealtimes ate more nutritious food and said they enjoyed their meals more.

There was also an improvement in people’s ability to look after themselves, especially among those who were more socially isolated before the study began. We want to hear from you

We are interested in hearing from readers about specific community projects which support older people to live in their homes. Keep your accounts to a maximum of 250 words and we will publish a selection of your responses next month.

Email health@irishtimes.com or tweet @IT_HealthPlus

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