Representing the Independent People with Disabilities group were, from Athlone, Dermot Hope and Larry Quain.

Over 700 in Westmeath Age-Friendly programme

There are over 700 members in the Age Friendly Programme in Westmeath, the cathaoirleach of Westmeath County Council, Councillor Liam McDaniel, revealed as he welcomed representatives from all across the county to the Bloomfield Hotel, Mullingar, recently for the AGM of the Westmeath Age Friendly Programme and Older Persons Council.

“We want to hear your views, we want to hear your ideas of what you want,” Cllr McDaniel told the gathering adding that their knowledge and their experience was invaluable.

He gave an undertaking that Westmeath County Council would continue to support its older residents through the age-friendly strategy.

Annette Barr-Jordan, Westmeath’s Age Friendly programme manager, explained that the input provided by members at the meeting would be used to inform the policy direction for the next two years.

The gathering also heard that the existing members of the Westmeath Older Persons Council have agreed to stay in place – but more members are welcome if anyone wishes to join the body.

Support officer

The job title “Age Friendly Healthy Homes Co-ordinator” may be a bit of a mouthful, but the woman appointed to that role for Westmeath, Sam Hogan, summarises her responsibility as being to support the ability of older people to live in their homes with dignity and independence for as long as possible.

Westmeath was one of nine counties in which a pilot scheme was introduced in 2021. The pilot project proved so successful that there are now to be 44 such officials appointed around the country. Ms Hogan said.

“The program's ambition is to enable everyone to live longer, healthier lives by keeping care close to home, and expanding the range of health and social care services in the community. It's about providing a range of alternatives for older people who may otherwise transition into long term residential care prematurely,” she told those at the event at Bloomfield House Hotel.

Ukrainian nationals Svetlana Butko and Valentia Harakanenro, who live in Athlone, participated in the event.
From left, Tommy Nally from Dysart and John Burke, Rosemount.

Strategies In use to make this possible included future-proofing homes so the residents can age into their home rather than having to become reactive as mobility deteriorates or the home becomes less suitable for their needs.

Grant aid may be necessary to effect the future-proofing required, and Ms Hogan said that as well as carrying out an assessment, her role would involve hand-holding people through the application process.

“We don't abandon you midway,” she said, adding that the service is free. To avail of the service, anyone can self-refer, or referrals can come from friends, neighbours, relatives. Some referrals come from health care professionals, some from local county councillors, and some even from the grants department in the local authority, which may be concerned that an applicant is having difficulty completing the paperwork for a grant application adequately.

Ms. Hogan said that apart from home assessments, which at the moment accounts for about 40% of her work, other supports that will be available to older people could involve linking them in with health or help services they don't currently access: “Sometimes people will be linked with a GP but they might not be linked with an occupational therapist; they might not be linked to the public health nurse,” she said, adding that her responsibility would involve making sure everybody was communicating with each other. Also on offer would be some support in terms of transport to hospital appointments. A further part of the picture is technology, including the use of personal alarms but also making digital training available to those interested in availing of it.

Continuing, she said another part of the picture would be assessing whether the older person was engaged with community or social activities, were they involved with a community group; did they need some support with assessing such groups.

She said befriending is a major issue and Westmeath Community Development has been doing work in this regard.

Ms Hogan went on to say that not everyone was aware that older people who own their own homes and who are in receipt of certain social welfare payments may be eligible for a home energy upgrade under the Warmer Homes Scheme: “There's quite a long waiting list for it - a couple of years’ waiting list - but when you do get to the top of the waiting list, it's a completely free service.”