Pandemic revealed extent of ageism in society, says Mike Ryan

WHO official urges focus on home care in rethink of how older people are looked after

Society needs to rethink its relationship with older generations and the way care is provided for them, the World Health Organisation's Dr Mike Ryan has said.

“Only by addressing this area will we be truly able to say that we have left no one behind,” Dr Ryan told the annual conference of Irish homecare providers.

The WHO wants to support countries in implementing integrated, person-centred long-term care, as well as comprehensive and co-ordinated primary healthcare approaches that better respond to the needs of older populations, he said.

This should encompass a shift from inpatient care to more home-based interventions, community engagement and a fully-integrated referral system.

A disproportionate number of people “in the second half of their lives” bore the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic around the world, the WHO’s head of emergencies pointed out. The virus had also had a direct and often life-threatening effect on their health, their social lives and their mental health.

“The spread of the virus has also amplified the spread of ageism, with older adults being wrongly stereotyped as frail, vulnerable and in need of protection.

“Regrettably, Covid-19 has revealed how prevalent ageism is in our societies. It is revealed the strengths and limitations of our responses to ageing.”

Dr Ryan described carers as the “true and often unsung heroes” of the pandemic for “selflessly standing by the most vulnerable in our societies”.

"I applaud your courage, your care, your commitment and, most of all, your kindness," he told the Home and Community Care Ireland conference.

HCCI called on the Government to implement a promised statutory home care scheme "as a matter of urgency". Chief executive Joseph Musgrave said that development of the scheme had been beset by delays and that the introduction of a statutory entitlement to home care should be expedited.

“A cruel lesson of the pandemic is just how important home care is for our elderly and disabled, but the Government have not reacted quickly to engage the sector to plan for the future.”

Minister of State for Older People Mary Butler said the Government was committed to the scheme and would begin home-support pilots in December.

Ms Butler said 478 people were waiting for approval for funding to a homecare service in August, down 88 per cent on the figure a year earlier.

An extra two million home-support hours have been provided so far this year, she added.