The mental health of older people asked to limit human contact during the coronavirus outbreak must be a key focus, Stormont has been told.
Older People’s Commissioner Eddie Lynch held a meeting with Communities Minister Deidre Hargey at Parliament Buildings on Monday to discuss the crisis.
He said older people in Northern Ireland were concerned about the threat posed by the virus, but also at the prospect of an extended period with limited human interaction.
“These are unprecedented times and many older people are concerned about what’s happening at the minute and what is happening coming down the line,” he told PA Media.
“They have heard there are government plans for people to go into self isolation for a period of time, so my focus is what that actually means in practical terms for older people and to make sure we are putting in the support and services required, so if we have to go down that route that older people are supported, that they are protected, they get their supplies and also that they are not shut off from society, that we look at ways at how we can keep them engaged and keep them in contact with one another.”
He said older people wanted clarity on what they were being asked to do.
“Older people are saying they want a clear and consistent message about what they need to do and when and I think we all need that at a time of crisis like this,” he said.
“Older people remaining on the whole calm but they are concerned naturally about what they have coming forward.”
He said protecting the mental as well as the physical health of older people had to be a priority.
“Connecting them to family and friends and the outside world is very important,” he said.
“I think there is a very clear focus on making sure that we think of the mental health of older people.
“We are talking about quite a long period of time for people to be isolated, so we can’t underestimate the impact that can have on someone’s mental health and that’s why it’s important we are doing everything we can to address those issues going forward.”