Ann Gahan, a resident of McAuley Place in Naas, pictured recently. Picture: Aishling Conway
Elderly people have been advised to stay home as part of “cocooning” measures against coronavirus, but while the isolation measures are designed to protect their physical health, what about mental health?
During his live broadcast to the nation on St. Patrick’s Day, An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the old and vulnerable that they will have to stay at home for “several weeks,” a strategy he labelled “cocooning.”
But there’s no doubt the fear and isolation is taking its toll on the older generation. Helplines for older people have seen a surge in concerned calls about the coronavirus pandemic.
Mary Deegan, a resident and a volunteer at McAuley Place, which provides centrally located self-contained apartments for older people who are capable of independent living, at the former Convent of Mercy in Naas, said the 53 residents there are all abiding by the isolation guidelines.
“We know that this virus is very dangerous, no one has immunity and there’s no antidote, and it’s going to overtake the health centres, so we are all trying to avoid getting it,” she said.
“Most people are sticking to their apartments. I pop out and get shopping for anyone who needs it early every morning and Anna in the tea room is doing dinners every day for €5 which people can come down to eat, sitting well away from each other, or I will drop dinner up to their rooms if they prefer to eat there. People are also getting out for walks. We have our own garden here, Luisne garden, which is locked to the outside world so residents here can walk around outside and stay in isolation,” she said.
“And God is always here. We are right next door to the church which is open for quiet prayer. Exposition is on every day from 9 to 5 and people can pop in. The church is large enough so it’s easy to keep away from other people.”
Meanwhile, Paddy Behan of Naas Active Retirement Group urged older people to follow the guidelines and keep up to date with official information. “Do what needs to be done. Isolate, watch the news, disinfect places that are touched frequently like door handles.”
But he also stressed people must take a break from the bombardment of coronavirus news.
“Get away from it all, read a book, listen to music, get out into the garden and walk or do some gardening, prune, catch up on things around the house that you never seem to have time to do.”
And he added that physical isolation shouldn’t mean social isolation.
“Phone a friend, even someone you haven’t spoken to in a while and ask them how they’re doing. Show that you care. Or call a helpline if you have questions or need to talk to someone.
“The most important thing to remember is that this will be over soon. Many of us have been here before, in this kind of situation. We are resilient and will get through it.”
Going right back to 1914 six million people died of flu and then The Spanish Flu of 1918-1920 infected 500 million people, about a quarter of the world’s population at the time, and the death toll is estimated to have been anywhere from 17 million to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million world wide, with 23,000 dying in Ireland alone.
“Older people will remember the 1940s when people were scared to go out for weeks at a time because of the flu. TB was very prevalent too at the time and wiped out whole families, as well as diphtheria. Naas Fever Hospital, where St. Mary’s is now, was built specifically to deal with the huge numbers of people sick with fever. We’ve been through this kind of thing before, and we will get through this again.”
He added that some good can come from having more time on our hands. “Older people have great stories to tell and they should use this opportunity to write down their memories. Write about what life was like at home when you were a child, what school was like, what games you played, your first dance, your first job.
“I’d love it if people had a story or two written down that they can share at the Active Retired or with their grandkids or great grandchildren once this is over and we are all back together again. Kids love hearing about olden times, and what seems mundane to an older person, because it was just what everyday life was like, can be fascinating and enthralling for younger generations.
And it’s important to remember that this is temporary, it will be over and things will get back to normal.”
IMPORTANT CONTACT INFORMATION:
HSE : 1850241850
Alone : 0818222024
Samaritans : 116123
Older Voices Kildare:
Denise Croke : 0871411669
Susan Higgins: 0871149175