Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

Call to help elderly in rural areas

Government should be doing more to help elderly people living in rural areas, according to a report

All-Ireland research into the problems faced by older people living in rural areas has sparked calls for more innovative support from government.

The proportions of elderly people living rurally in Ireland, north and south, are some of the highest in the world and the study called for an all-island commission on the issue.

A £16 million scheme will be unveiled in Northern Ireland later this week to tackle rural poverty and isolation, but the study revealed how even relatively low-cost changes could transform lives.

Researchers called for the better use of community-based organisations, but they also proposed the provision of measures as simple as providing older people with a place to meet.

But serious difficulties were also uncovered by the study, which was led by the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology at NUI Galway and studied rural communities in 10 locations.

"What was remarkable across the sites was how much deprivation some older people could bear, how low their expectations were in relation to material goods, and how good they were at putting perspective on their relative poverty," said the report.

The "Social Exclusion and Ageing in Diverse Rural Communities" report is the first in-depth study of its kind.

Researchers said: "The main policy conclusion that emerges from the report is that there needs to be a renewed and integrated effort to maximise both the capabilities and participation of older people living in rural areas."

One of the authors of the report, Professor Eamon O'Shea, said: "We came across many older people living in what would appear to be difficult circumstances, but a sense of belonging and keeping connected in their communities helped to maintain their quality of life."

Interviews carried out with more than 100 older people found five major concerns linked to opportunities to meet other people and build relationships, access to health and other services, access to transport, safety from crime, and financial security.

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