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Age Concern: seniors coping with isolation

Older people were supported through the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic thanks to the generosity of donors and collaborative working, the executive director of Age Concern Bermuda said yesterday.

Claudette Fleming explained that an outpouring of assistance helped the charity's members feel “safe”, despite emergency measures that put restrictions on movement.

She said: “We are saddened by loss of life, in particular, and also for those who are facing uncertainty due to Covid-19.”

But she added that the pandemic provided Age Concern “justification that we were designed for such a time as this”.

Dr Fleming, who marks 20 years as executive director of the organisation today, said that about 400 members replied to a survey that showed how well the island met its residents' needs.

She explained that many of the respondents “felt safe and connected”, although “in the middle of the pandemic, some felt anxious, overwhelmed and lonely”.

The members relied on friends, family, churches and other groups to help them cope. She said: “At the same time that they were saying ‘I feel safe, I feel supported', they were also saying ‘but I have concerns — people need to keep their social distance; we're not comfortable, we don't feel that people are keeping their social distance when we go to the grocery stores' and so on.

“That is a message to the public that we have to abide by these because, moving forward, the fastest-growing demographic is people that live alone — across age groups — so to think that people would be able to stay at home for long periods is just not realistic.”

Dr Fleming pointed out that loneliness can be a factor in chronic health conditions so it was important to help everyone to reintegrate and meet socially again.

She added: “The only way to do that safely is for us, as a community, to wash our hands, wear our face masks, do things to protect them.”

Dr Fleming said: “That's an issue we are going to have to get certainty around — how we can get them to socialise safely.

“For us, it's good we were able to more than keep our doors open, we are still able to help.

“Of course, donations are always needed, but the donor community has been fantastic in making sure that we are here to do our jobs and it's really up to us as an organisation to pivot and use this opportunity to get stronger.

“We are appreciative of that now that we know that elements of our services are essential.”

Dr Fleming said that the charity recognised for the first time the extent of the importance of its discounts scheme for members and thanked people for their patience if they waited for membership applications or renewals to be processed.

Age Concern was part of the Third Sector Co-ordinated Crisis Response Effort, which brought together agencies and individuals to organise efforts.

The charity dealt with between 130 and 150 calls and 30 to 50 requests for food and other support weekly at the peak of the emergency.

Dr Fleming said that third sector groups “had things we could only dream about”.

She explained that these included “the extent of the help and the funds available, the co-operation with Government” and a “seat at the Emergency Measures Organisation table”, which was through the Bermuda Community Foundation and the Bank of Bermuda Foundation's representatives on the CCRE. Dr Fleming added: “The wall was dropped, we were able to ask for people, silos just weren't there.”

She said that collaborative working also came from the Bermuda Police Service, the private sector, churches and community organisations.

Dr Fleming paid tribute to the “extremely dedicated” Age Concern team and said that Judith Brooks, a social worker, “became a very instrumental part of us being connected to the community”.

She said that in the past 20 years the charity maintained awareness of the value of Bermuda's older adults.

Dr Fleming added: “We still have a long way to go, we still have an issue with healthcare and how we're going to resolve that; long-term care is an issue — it's probably one of the most significant issues that we are going to face and that needs immediate attention.

“We still have an ageing population and the ramifications of that ageing population and how we're going to manage it. “At the same time, we have lots of opportunity, we are getting more and more 50-year-olds joining our organisation.”

Dr Fleming said: “This isn't your grandma's Age Concern. I turned 50 in December 2019 so I'm now a member, so it's personal now.

“I do not see myself as on the decline, quite the contrary.

“We need to see our older and maturing citizens for the value that they bring.

“We will be around, we are only going to get stronger as the majority of the population reaches this age group.”

Claudette Fleming, the executive director of Age Concern Bermuda (Photograph supplied)

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Published July 01, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated July 01, 2020 at 9:11 am)

Age Concern: seniors coping with isolation

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