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Friends of the Elderly Adjust Their Services to Meet Older Peoples’ Needs During Covid-19

Photo credit: Friends of the Elderly.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Friends of the Elderly (FOTE) have radically changed their programmes to continue improving elders’ well-being. For background information on the Irish charity, click here to read my previously published article on ‘Lonely Christmas’.

Adhering to government restrictions Friends of the Elderly have tried to keep their social clubs going, inviting the allowed maximum number of members to come to Bolton Street for a coffee in a socially distant environment. However, as the situation worsened, and the number of individuals permitted to meet was reduced such social occasions had to stop entirely. 

Their last social club was hosted in early March subsequently causing a significant impact on older people relying on the charity’s services. “Up to 100 people a week would have used our premises as a social outlet. It gave them an outlet to keep active but also allows for their minds to be active too,” explains Deborah Costello, Fundraising and Communications Manager at Friends of the Elderly. 

Following the ceasing of social clubs and home visitations, their ‘Friendly Call’ list has drastically risen to over 500 people. The charity expects the overall number of calls to reach 50,000 this year, surging up 42% from 2019. Making phone calls as regular as possible which each could take up to 25 minutes, poses a huge challenge for the staff of three and their volunteers trying to meet demand. If you like to have a friendly chat and want to brighten up an older person’s day, see below how to become a friendly caller.

With the pandemic quickly approaching early this year the number of people self-referring themselves to FOTE has spiked. The sudden change in the norm of elders’ lives, especially of the ones previously living a very active life, has added the “pressure of feeling fearful, feeling vulnerable.”

In order to support people within their homes during the first lockdown FOTE has increased the number of hampers to up to 4,000 food and care packages compared to their usual extent of about 1,200 food hampers in previous years. With the priority of keeping everyone safe, such are delivered predominantly within the Dublin area in a secure environment taking all precautionary methods from face masks to gloves. 

The Fundraising and Communications Manager explains, “they don’t want to be going out to the shops because they are petrified.” Furthermore, she emphasises the importance of such social encounters for the elders, even though only at a distance. “It was for them to see peoples’ faces; it gave them that little uplift, that little boost.”

Realising the need for hot meals, FOTE took on a new service in collaboration with a local hotel providing dinners to elders for ten weeks during the first lockdown period. Initially starting off with 20 dinners this “quickly escalated” and a total of 7.000 dinners were given out. 

Deborah describes often “hard-hitting” stories, “we were coming in, there were messages on the answer machine ‘I have no food in my house’, or we would ring someone and they might say ‘I tried to make my own dinner, my arthritis is so bad, I managed to lift the pot, got the dinner made, but then I dropped the plate.”

Click below for more information and to see how the services at Friends of the Elderly have changed as a response to the pandemic.

There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has a devastating impact on everyone’s lives. However, the digital divide between generations has significantly affected elders’ access to reliable information. 

Deborah further explains, “at the beginning of lockdown there was so much conflicting messages going out there; wear gloves, don’t wear gloves, masks work, masks don’t work. There was a huge amount of information out there and as a younger generation you can sieve through that through social media or online articles. But for older people, they have constantly the radio on trying to listen to find out what was being said, it was a continuous loop for them.”

Difficult unprecedented times demand especially mindful ways of behaviour towards vulnerable people in particular. “We had quite a few phone calls of people expressing a desire to be no longer with us,” states the Fundraising and Communications Manager. 

“Loneliness this Christmas is paramount. There is a huge amount of fear accompanying loneliness and isolation. If they didn’t just have loneliness and isolation last year which is bad enough, they now have fear on top of it. They are fearful this will be their last Christmas. They are fearful that they won’t get to see their children who are living abroad,” explains Deborah.

Sharing a member’s plight, she adds, “I had one lady last week, and she was in an awful state because her son had to go and have a Covid-19 test. This is her only living relative.” 

Coming up to Christmas, a company which wishes to remain anonymous has provided very special Christmas hampers that for the first time will also be distributed outside of Dublin. Deborah describes people’s joy receiving these unexpected presents including Christmas lights and candles, “our phones are just hopping with people saying, ‘I can’t believe that’s for me, I haven’t received a present in I don’t know how long’. This was like a box of happiness delivered to them. Everything to bring their home alive for Christmas.”

This year marks Friends of the Elderly’s 40th anniversary which celebrations are postponed due to the circumstances. For the future the charity is keen to open its doors again and welcome elders for their social clubs. Deborah Costello enthusiastically states, “the doors will open, the music will go on, and there will be a party.”

Members of Friends of the Elderly enjoying themselves at a social club. (Photo by: Rubina Freiberg, taken in November 2019)

In order to continue their much-needed work fighting loneliness amongst older people, Friends of the Elderly are reliant on donations. Click here to support their Urgent Christmas Appeal.

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