ONE-fifth of Clare’s older people living in towns have reported feeling unsafe at all times, according to the coordinator for the county’s Age Friendly initiative.
Karen Fennessy revealed the findings of a survey of the county’s older residents to last Monday’s meeting of the Joint Policing Committee (JPC). She noted that ongoing cooperation between the Gardaí, the council and other agencies is required to boost the safety of older people in their own homes and in public.
Ms Fennessy outlined how an incident at a wedding had highlighted for her the challenges faced by older people. “I was speaking to a woman who had been a nurse and given a huge contribution,” she said. “She told me that when she retired she became invisible. She said that when she goes out in public, she is invisible. She said she’s afraid of groups of teenagers on street corners and she is afraid of falling down. She also said she doesn’t understand a lot of the messaging coming from the likes of the council. I think her situation is a really good illustration of why we have to combat ageism and to improve our towns and villages so that older people can move around.”
Ms Fennessy noted that the number of people over the age of 80 will quadruple in the next 20 years. “One-third of newborns will live to be 100,” she noted.
The current strategy document covers the period of 2018 to 2022 and focuses on a range of actions including increasing levels of respect and social inclusion, employment and civic participation, as well as the improvement of outdoor spaces, public buildings, housing, health services and transport.
Ms Fennessy also revealed the findings of a Healthy and Positive Ageing Initiative (HaPAI) Survey carried out in Clare which shows differences in how safe urban and rural dwellers feel.
“There are differences depending on whether someone lives in a town or in the countryside,” she noted. “The survey found that 21.6% of all urban respondents felt unsafe, day or night. That compares with 10.1% of rural respondents.”
Ms Fennessy added that consultation undertaken with those who participated in the survey outlined a number of initiatives needed to help people feel safer. “Older people have told us they feel safer by becoming more active,” she said. “The other factors include the text and community alert schemes, which have been reinvigorated, as well as having a closer relationships with the local Gardaí, a home-calling scheme and a list of trusted tradespeople.”
The text and community alert schemes were cited as initiatives that had proven particularly successful. “They reduce the fear of becoming the victim of crime,” she noted. “When there is an incident and it’s reported, coverage by the media can frighten people.”
Another initiative designed to increase the security of older people is the expansion in rural areas of the Local Link transport service, moves to provide lighting at bus shelters, as well as the roll-out in a number of public libraries of class on the use of smartphones. “There was a social disconnect for older people during the lockdown,” Ms Fennessy noted. “Funding was secured to train library staff and there has been a big demand for classes on using smartphones.”
In relation to the fear that older people can experience around interacting with teenagers, Ms Fennessy said she had recently been working with Comhairle na nÓg, the council for younger people. “They have told me of their fears of being given out to by older people,” she remarked. “So, there is a job of work there to connect the two.”
Reacting to Ms Fennessy’s presentation, Councillor Gabriel Keating pointed out that there are no bus shelters in many rural areas and that that can present problems. He thanked Ms Fennessy for her presentation saying, “rural Ireland needs people like you”.
Councillor Pat Daly asked the Clare Age Friendly co-ordinator about the measures being taken in terms of providing housing for older people.
She replied that one of the council’s engineers is currently being trained and will have technical expertise in providing age-friendly housing.
On the subject of bus shelters, she noted that Local Link is working to find a location for a bus shelter in Kilrush and will be able to access funds for one from the National Transport Authority (NTA).
Chairperson of the JPC, Councillor John Crowe thanked Ms Fennessy for her presentation, describing it as “excellent”.