Aging in Place Ireland’s Loneliness Epidemic

Traditional cottage house in Adare, Co. Limerick, Ireland

Aging in Place 

On this St Patrick’s Day Ireland is certainly on my mind. I have visited the land of my ancestors and made the pilgrimage to Waterford, the childhood home of my grandmother. The emerald Island is enchanting, with its quaint villages and rugged coastlines, and the unlikely pairing of off-shore high-tech windmills and horse drawn carts. A land and linage I enthusiastically lay claim to each year at this time.

In America, many embrace Irish heritage as we literately turn rivers (and beer) green to honor St Patrick—Ireland’s patron saint; who began his life known as Maewyn. As a young man he shunned his British family’s Christian faith, then after being captured by Irish pirates at the age of 16, Maewyn’s faith was then reborn. Eventually he was reunited with his family and then heard God’s calling to go to Ireland as an early Christian missionary. He took the Latin name Patricius upon his ordination, which became St. Patrick (he was never formally canonized by a Pope). It is believed he died on March 17, the date we get together with friends and family to celebrate his life and role in Irish culture.

Yet ironically, for a growing number of elderly in Ireland it’s just another day–alone…

A new survey released last week reveals that loneliness is one of the biggest concerns facing older people. The research, conducted ahead of the General Election 2016 by ALONE, a charity that supports older people to age at home, found that, along with worrying about poor health and financial difficulties, OAPs’ biggest fear was feeling alone.

In Ireland they are struggling with the Question: Is loneliness in old age inevitable?  Sean Moynihan, CEO of ALONE notes; “It’s always been an issue but now it’s become a sort of plague of our time. One-in-three over 65s live on their own, a number that’s only going to continue to climb, and a huge proportion of them feel isolated or lonely.”

 The reason and causes are multiple:

~Family sizes are smaller

~Gray divorce

~Increased emigration

~Composition of communities/housing changing

~Longevity gains/Chronic diseases = Decreased mobility

~Exacerbating the problem lack of affordable housing

~Dearth of suitable housing stock falls between independent living and residential care

~Social stigma of loneliness that prevents people asking for help

Ireland Seeks Solutions to Loneliness

There are many organizations and individuals literally answering the call to help combat isolation and loneliness in the rapidly aging Irish population. Solutions are as varied as the causes, but it all gets down to caring enough to take the time to remember others in need and to make them feel less alone on this, and every other day of the week.

Solutions to Elder Isolation in Ireland

~ Senior Help Line is a confidential listening service for older people by trained older volunteers for the price of a local call anywhere in Ireland

~Positive Ageing Week

~ Operation Conversation: A pilot project in Co Meath aimed at encouraging isolated elders to meet

~ A new report from the Institute of Public Health in Ireland (IPH)

~HomeLink: A call service

~ALONE in Action

The UK

~ Researchers Confront an Epidemic of Loneliness

~Contact the Elderly

So tonight as I toast a Guinness with my wife and our friends, I will be thinking about those alone tonight in Ireland—and all those good people with big hearts working to make it a less lonely existence for others. It is they who are the real saints on this day of Patrick…

Erin go Bragh!


The Irish elderly in isolation: The facts

~One in three over 65s live on their own

~According to the organization Age Friendly Ireland, one third of those aged over 65 has reported feeling lonely

~Some studies have shown that older people who experience high levels of isolation are almost twice as likely to die within six years compared to those who feel engaged in relationships and the community

~Loneliness has been shown to have links with mental and physical health issues including depression, a higher risk of dementia, cardiovascular disease and reduced immune system response

~Our population is growing by 20,000 additional older people every year. By 2036 it’s estimated that 20pc of the population will be aged 65 and older

~It’s estimated that, on average, those aged 80 plus spend 80pc of their time in the home

~A recent study in the UK found that two fifths of older people said that the television was their main source of company

(Irish Independent)

Fun Fact: The Irish flag – made of equal sections of green, white and orange – represents Catholics (green) and Protestants (orange) and peace (white) between the two groups. (

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