Elderly people afraid to leave home since the pandemic, says listening service

Callers to SeniorLine give various reasons for staying home despite lifting of restrictions

Damien Leneghan, SeniorLine manager, says anxiety is rife amongst elderly people. Photograph: iStock

A confidential listening service for the elderly which saw its calls double through the Covid-19 crisis has warned that some elderly people are afraid to go out even as the restrictions lift.

SeniorLine cites the case of a 72-year-old woman identified only as “Kathleen from Dublin 16”.

Kathleen, speaking to a trained volunteer of her own age on the line, admitted that she had “become used to being at home.”

“Even though it is depressing and monotonous, I get very nervous if I think of trying the shopping centre or visiting a friend. I’ve lost a lot of confidence, and it’s safer to stay at home even though I know it’s not good for me.”


Damien Leneghan, SeniorLine manager, says anxiety is rife amongst elderly people.

“Many callers have been over a year at home and tell us they are still very nervous of leaving. The longer they stay the more difficult it is. You can become institutionalised very quickly.”

SeniorLine’s experience echoes the findings of two national surveys into how older people have suffered enduring losses in the pandemic. Telling It Like It Is by Age Alliance found that many people lost their capacity for sociability, and that their reserves of resilience were worn thin. These findings were broadly echoed by a Trinity College report In Their Own Words into the experiences of older people.


Meanwhile, callers to SeniorLine give various reasons for staying at home. Some are concerned about the Delta variant and rising infection among a younger population. Single callers speak of married friends who no longer socialise, leaving the caller with nobody to meet.

Mr Leneghan said loneliness is already a problem for some older people who live alone, and research suggests its effects can be as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes.

“There are tips to help people become re-engaged in a safe way. Build up your confidence by getting out for a short time each day choosing somewhere safe and quiet, if possible. You will feel the benefit of exercise that can lift your mood, and home exercises can help with flexibility, strength and balance.

“If you have not driven for some time, deliberately plan some trips to get used to the roads again.”

Mr Leneghan asks that anxious elderly persons avoid watching a constant stream of news programmes which can increase anxiety. He says people should also build in a purpose and a plan for each day.

“Meet outdoors with individuals or small groups of friends or family. These meetings can be time-limited and controlled.

Reach out in other ways. Phone calls, WhatsApp, letters, cards, email, text, Skype and FaceTime. Many people have mastered Zoom and other communication platforms. (Free advice and support in this digital age is available to over-65s from GenerationTech, telephone 01-0633288, open Monday-Friday 3am-8pm).

Get to know your neighbours, and have the reassurance of someone close by who can help you if you need support.

“Don’t forget SeniorLine. We are open every day from 10am till 10pm, it’s a Freefone number 1800 80 45 91. ”