Ireland and Ageing in COVID-19 Times

Ireland and Ageing in  COVID-19 Times

Dr. Diarmuid O'Shea, President, Irish Gerontological Society

 While there is no specific age at which one is old or young, we know that populations are getting older.  In demographic analysis, age 60 years is typically taken as the dividing line between older and younger cohorts of the population.  In developed countries, many think of 65 years as the cut-off point because of eligibility rules for pension and social security benefits.  Such cut-off ages vary around the world. 

Any illness, viral or otherwise is a bigger challenge for older people.  The current pandemic of Coronavirus (COVID-19) is heightening our awareness of this fact.  Chronic illnesses and co-morbidities including obesity, diabetes, dementia, cancer and heart failure along with frailty also result in poorer outcomes for all ages in the event of an intra-current acute illness.  How we work together to provide the most appropriate, coordinated and compassionate care for those that are most vulnerable will stretch and challenge us all in the weeks ahead.

Huge efforts are now being put into this across the acute hospital sector and the nursing home sector, so that each person receives the support and care that best meets their needs.  This will involve nurses, doctors and health care workers working together with the patient and their families to ensure the best decisions on medical care, advance care planning and end of life care management are made when and where appropriate, with the person and their wishes being at the centre of all those decisions.

However, what is very evident to us all is the important contribution that the over 70s make to society in Ireland.  Adults over 70 are the fabric of their community and deserve more than just acknowledgement of this during the COVID-19 crisis.

The role older people have played and play in our lives and society today has performed a crucial role in all our lives and in the growth and development of Ireland as a nation.   The findings of the new study released by Trinity College/TILDA this week highlight a number of key functions where the contribution of our older people underpin both our economy and our society,  including childcare, volunteering and caregiving.
   
Among the many challenges we now all face in our new “COVID world” are the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on our older population, with progressive restrictions on social engagements and the possibility of the advancement of social isolation for this group.  This will undoubtedly bring us all new challenges.

While new ways of working, flexibility and rapid changes are occurring on a daily basis across the continuum of health care, we are now seeing how positive change is beginning across our community. Local community initiatives and national organizations like ALONE are leading the way. It is wonderful to see how, among the many, An Garda Siochana, An Post and the GAA are also adapting and contributing to support those of us as we age and those that are vulnerable. 

New ways of working to deliver community services and food delivery are popping up around the country.  This type of selfless community service is replacing our now forbidden handshake!  These initiatives can go some way towards alleviating the stresses and strains of social distancing, social isolation and “cocooning” (whatever that actually is!). 

We are now seeing how Ireland responds in a crisis as a nation.  We are all in this together.  It is not just the health care workers on the front line who are the heroes.  Each and every one of us is doing our bit.  As a country known for its welcome, we are turning to each other in our time of need, for that welcome, support and comfort - however socially distant we need to be and for however long.   Each of us is leading by example, but we can all ask ourselves, “Can I do more?”. 
 
We should be proud of what we are doing.  At 100 years of age our country is strengthening a culture that upholds dignity, respect and compassion for each other over the course of our lives.  We are doing this by supporting and helping each other at our time of greatest need.  While we each have a personal responsibility, there is also a shared societal and governmental duty.  Now more than ever we need to work together to get through this phase, and when it does pass, and it will, we must keep the positive changes we have made and build on them. 
 
Our Ireland, and indeed the world, will be very different places after the COIVD-19 experience.  We must be sure to build positively on that experience. Progress never happens unless people work together.
 
It is well worth a look at the TILDA findings to remind us all of why we must all continue with the hand washing, social distancing and cocooning.  
 
For up to date information on how to manage and avoid Coronavirus, please get your information from the trusted sources:   Health Service Executive COVID-19