If a pill could do what AgeWell does, it would be priceless

Posted on 21st May 2020

‘If a pill could do what AgeWell does, it would be priceless’ has been the general assessment of many families with older members enrolled in the programme. 

AgeWell is an award-winning innovative new model of integrated care, supporting older people to remain safer and healthier in their own homes.  It does this by building a relationship with each older person at home, realising that one size does not fit all, and that trusting, effective relationships are built slowly and with sincerity and care.

AgeWell, a programme of the not-for-profit organisation, Third Age, has recruited and trained AgeWell Companions who provide engagement and friendship through home visits and phone calls.  The Companions use a health-based screening tool, created by gerontologists to capture ongoing information on client physical/mental health and wellbeing.  If there is any cause for concern, relevant client information is referred for appropriate action, in the right place at the right time, thus providing an early warning system. Referrals include those to the social workers, pharmacy, public health nurse, nutritional services and others. 77% of referrals to AgeWell come from the HSE, and programme aim is to enable clients to remain living in their own homes and communities for as long as possible. AgeWell won a Social Innovative Award in 2018. Since inception, 255 clients have received a total of 5,500 visits.

AgeWell has been supported by Slaintecare’s Integration Fund since the last quarter of 2019.  Sláintecare is the ten-year programme to transform our health and social care services.  This support has allowed the AgeWell programme to extend into East Meath thus making it available to every older person in Co Meath

The programme began in March 2018 when a baseline client assessment was taken. Even within the first four months, a first evaluation indicated significant improvements in all parameters measuring loneliness, wellbeing, social support, self-rated health and physical activity.   Importantly, these improvements have been sustained. Eighteen months later, 75% of clients report a decrease in loneliness, and of the 25% deemed to be at risk in March 2018, today no client is regarded at risk. This points to the value of a pioneering programme that combines relationship-building with ongoing health monitoring.  

Avril Hevey is Manager of AgeWell: ‘Our clients can be lonely for many reasons. Some are isolated in very rural areas.  Some are in more populated areas, but may have moved there relatively recently, or frailty may keep them housebound and not in touch with neighbours.  Many clients are bereaved after long and loving marriages, and they can be very lonely’, she said.

‘Many of the families are marvellous, but they cannot be there all the time. They may be out at work all day, they may live far away, they have their own families to look after also’, she said.

A minority of AgeWell clients, like the population as a whole, live in families with complex social problems, which can be exacerbated if one is older, unwell and voiceless.  ‘Sometimes it is easier to speak to someone outside the family and this is where the trust comes in. Our Companions have spent months visiting their clients each week, getting to know them, building up the relationship, and it is from that place that clients will speak. Our Companions also receive any guidance they need from us to enable them to support the client and help them in particular situations’, said Avril.

Ita Healy is an AgeWell Companion. A qualified nurse, she has a Diploma in Social Care, and managed the Day Centre at St Joseph’s Hospital Trim before her retirement.  Ita has six AgeWell clients and has been visiting them for over two years. ‘They see me as a friend and it has taken time to build this relationship. It varies very much from person to person.   I am thinking of one client who was quite happy to have me call and we would have a chat. Then about three months in, there was a growing openness and they began to ask me questions about personal issues’ she said,

‘At the beginning also, the health and wellbeing app is a great icebreaker, In answering the questions people tell us a lot about themselves and it is a good base to move out from.

‘When it comes to loneliness, a lot of them would not have admitted they were lonely, they may not recognise it, but often they would have nobody to talk to their own age.  Many of their peers have died.  Talking to me, we have shared memories, and I can understand and empathise’, said Ita.

 ‘AgeWell is a wonderful programme. I think its strength is that we are not just volunteers, we are trained, we are very committed, and we have huge support from Third Age’, she said.  

AgeWell currently operates in Meath. It has attracted wider interest and there are plans to scale up as soon as funding becomes available.

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