Former Olympic athlete Dame Mary Peters says having an Age Northern Ireland personal alarm makes her feel safer when home alone
'If I fell and hurt myself at home, it could be days before someone might actually discover me'
Winter weather and dark evenings can make vulnerable people feel even more at risk. Former Olympic athlete Dame Mary Peters tells Stephanie Bell why having an Age NI personal alarm makes her feel safer when alone.
At 76 years old, Dame Mary Peters is still a tireless personality who is as fit as ever, so it was a bit of a surprise to learn this week that she wears an Age NI Personal alarm when alone at home.
As the charity promotes the need for vulnerable elderly people to take special care during the winter months, Dame Mary has lent her support by talking about the peace of mind she gets from having an alarm.
As one of Northern Ireland's most active older people, Mary's weeks are filled with events and engagements that keep her busy, with groups and organisations all over the province.
So why does an active, independent individual like Mary, now have an Age NI Personal Alarm installed at home?
"Interestingly, that's something that my friends have been asking, too," says Mary.
"People have this idea that a personal alarm is something that much older people use. They think 'that's not for me' or 'I'm too young to think about things like that'.
"My friends have all said that I'm not old enough for a personal alarm. I'm very realistic though, and I think that it's important to plan for all eventualities, if you can."
Dame Mary says she has had slips at home before and it is because she lives alone that the alarm gives her reassurance.
The dark months of winter, in particular, can lead to people questioning their independence, and feeling less confident at home.
In October, of the thousands of calls received by Age NI to its alarm service call centre, which include tests and customer support, 130 people needed assistance at home, with another 42 needing calls made on their behalf to 999.
Dame Mary is one of more than 8,000 people in Northern Ireland who use an Age NI Personal Alarm
She says: "I've thought about occasions before, when I've had a fall outside or slipped on the stairs. On those occasions I was lucky - I didn't do myself much damage but I could have. To be frank, if I fell and hurt myself at home I could be lying there for days before someone might find me.
"That's the truth and it's something I felt that I needed to acknowledge and take positive steps to prevent. I want to make sure that I continue to feel confident at home as I grow older. I don't ever want to be in a position where I couldn't contact someone for help in an emergency."
When at home, Mary says she wears her alarm around her neck. It something that she says she has got so used to that she doesn't even notice it any more.
A keen gardener, she says she feels especially vulnerable when outside.
She adds: "My alarm is connected to the call centre which is on hand 24 hours a day and I test it regularly. The alarm works in the garden, too, which is great for me. I love gardening, although I don't even want to think about the amount of work it needs right now - there are leaves everywhere.
"But when I have time, I love to be outside and the alarm is a little peace of mind when I'm up and down steps, clearing rubbish and in and out of the shed.
"I've always been a believer that 'a stitch in time saves nine' and I think that's exactly what I believe the personal alarm is about.
"Thinking about our independence and the possibility of losing it is a little like thinking about writing a will. Many of us don't like to think about it or talk about it. But it's important that we do. I feel fit and independent right now, but the day might come when I need the reassurance that my personal alarm gives me."
Jim McDowell, Age NI personal alarms manager, says this time of the year is one when the charity is particularly concerned about older people living on their own.
He points out: "'We are very aware that the darker evenings and colder conditions of the winter months can have a negative impact on older people.
"Although we've been lucky to be in the middle of a very mild spell of weather recently, leaves are continuing to fall in great numbers and are making paths and driveways really slippy. Just the thought of a trip or fall can make some older people afraid to venture out of the house, even into their garden, and it's that fear that can lead to people feeling less independent and confident at home.
"As Mary recognises, we can feel vulnerable and isolated in our own home if we take ill or have a fall.
"For many people it's important to know that the alarm is there, just in case."
- To find out more about an Age NI Personal Alarm go to www.ageni.org/alarms
Help is on hand for older people...
WHAT WINTER CAN MEAN TO OLD PEOPLE
- Some older people find it difficult to pay heating bills and keep their homes warm. Others can become bed-ridden with illness. Many struggle to leave the house in extremely cold and icy conditions and donft see anyone for weeks
- 70% of older people worry most about staying warm in winter. Almost a third of older people in Northern Ireland say television is their main company and 44% feel more isolated from the community than ever
HOW AGE NI ASSISTS ITS CLIENTS
- By offering a wide range of services in order to help older people feel warm and well
- By providing free information and advice to ease financial worries
- By running Christmas parties at local day centres
- By providing befriending services to help fight loneliness
- Call Age NI Advice: 0808 808 7575 or visit http://www.ageuk.org.uk/northern-ireland/health--wellbeing/winter-advice