People are living longer than ever before. While this is a positive reflection of our healthier lifestyles, we also need to consider the reality of our growing elderly population. we spoke to Sean Moynihan, CEO of older people’s charity ALONE, to discuss ageing in Ireland.
The Irish government currently provide two strategies for elderly care. The Nursing Home Support Scheme – also known as the Fair Deal Scheme – supports those that need to go into a nursing home. The person makes a contribution towards the cost of their care, and the State pays the balance. The State also offer a free home care package for elderly people who wish to age at home, provided by the HSE. However, according to the Irish Times, more than 5,200 elderly are on waiting lists for a home care package, home help or some other form of support to allow them to remain their own homes.
“Our system needs to recognise and accommodate for the fact that we are an ageing society.”
ALONE provide direct support to older people through four main services – community support, befriending, supportive housing and campaigns for change. Their most recent campaign for change calls upon the government to make care in the home a legal right as evidence shows that the majority of older people prefer to age at home. “What we are campaigning for is a right to care in the community so that older people have a choice,” explained Sean. “It’s what they want, it’s what their families want, and it is what we will want for ourselves. We are dealing with adults who are telling us what they need from the government. That has to be respected.”
Sean also explained that older people who go from living independently to living in a nursing home find it quite hard to deal with. While nursing homes are completely necessary, they are not always a viable or sustainable option. “Nursing homes are an absolutely vital service needed for a percentage of people. In Ireland, there are 20,000 more over 65’s every year. If 5% of those people go into nursing homes, we need 1,000 extra places every year. Financially, the country cannot afford that.”
“People are living longer because they are healthier, which is a consequence of a really positive thing.”
There is serious pressure being placed on our hospitals and emergency rooms at the moment. “Older people take longer to recover, so it is natural that they will be in hospital for longer. Previous figures from the HSE (August 2016) show that elderly people made up 81% of all delayed discharges. Delayed discharge is linked to a lack of access to long-term care facilities and organisation of community supports. The person may be medically ready to leave the hospital, but they are unable to as the necessary care, support or accommodation is not readily available.”
A more comprehensive care system, which would allow the older person to be cared for within the community, would not only ease the strain on our health system’s overcrowding, it would also make sense financially. “A home care package would cost around €400 a week, while keeping an older person in hospital, taking up an acute bed, can cost up to €7,000 a week.”
“We are dealing with adults who are telling us what they need from the government. That has to be respected.”
More extensive home care packages reflect people’s wishes and make financial sense. “With Ireland’s older population set to reach 1.4 million over the next 30 years, the state’s statutory obligation to provide long-term residential care must be extended to community care. The provision of quality home care packages for older people is a necessity.”
Rather than seeing our elderly as a nuisance, our system needs to adjust to accommodate its changing population. “People are living longer because they are healthier, which is a consequence of a really positive thing. The majority of those people are contributing, helping with grandchildren, some of them are even still working, and hopefully they are still socialising. For those years when people are less active, we need to re-engineer the system.”
For more information, Visit: www.alone.ie