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Helping to keep older people connected during pandemic

GROUPS providing activities for senior citizens in West Tyrone have faced a challenging six months due to the suspension of their vital work.

At a time when many would have been resuming their clubs following the summer break, members are instead facing more months of inactivity. However, that doesn’t mean local clubs have stopped completely.

Instead, they are finding new ways of engaging with their memberships and ensuring that challenges such as social isolation and loneliness are addressed.

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The Omagh-based South West Age Partnership (SWAP) is an umbrella organisation for many local groups catering for older people. It has been working closely with the many local groups which provide weekly activities for the elderly in the community.

During the pandemic around 300 support packs have been distributed among older people.

SWAP was also contacting dozens of people by telephone on a weekly basis to hear how they were coping.

SWAP’s manager in Omagh is Alison Forbes, who has no doubt about the resilience of the elderly.

However, she is well aware that the likely absence of activities during the coming winter months will be a challenge.

“It has been incredible how some of the people have kept going despite the restrictions that were in place. But older people told me that they lived through a world war and would survive the coronavirus as well,” said Alison.

“But as we approach the autumn, the clubs aren’t going to be organised in the same way as they had. The groups realistically can’t yet resume full activities due to the huge burden on organisers to adhere to regulations and to bring everyone back safely.

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October is Positive Ageing Month and Alison said SWAP intends to introduce doing activity programmes online and provide support packs for those who might not be familiar with the internet.

While there has been a return to some kind of normality in wider society, Alison says that the ongoing impact of the pandemic on older people must be acknowledged.

“The lockdown period was extremely difficult for older people because many were sitting at home alone and perhaps not seeing anyone or anything other than the TV. Some even lost the ability to go for a drive in their cars.

“At least now they are able to get out and about and there is a confidence that, with time, things will get better.

“The challenge is to ensure that, if people retreat again during the winter, that there are support structures in place for them. That will have to be managed through regular contacts, but we’re ready.”

 

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