Brenda Kearns, Head of Advice and Advocacy at Age NI, explains why the service is so vital for people across Northern Ireland, particularly in the battle to end loneliness.
As we approach the festive season, Age NI’s team of four advisers will once again be taking calls from older people, and their families, who may be lonely, or need help with a range of other issues including community care or welfare benefits.
Age NI’s Advice and Advocacy Service is a lifeline for older people, and their families, who don’t know where else to turn to.
The service deals with over 11,000 calls every year, providing information and advice to older people, and their families, on a wide range of issues including health, housing, care and money.
Brenda Kearns is Head of Advice and Advocacy at Age NI. She’s been with the charity since 2007, and explained why the service is so vital for people across Northern Ireland: ‘‘Whenever the phone rings, you never know who is on calling, or what concern we will be asked to help with.
‘‘We’re very aware that people could be coming to us in a state of distress, or they could be confused or unsure about information they have received, and they need clarity and advice on how to proceed.
‘‘The issues people come to us with vary widely. It could be that they’ve been given a letter about their housing benefit and they don’t know what it means. Or it could be a relative who is concerned about their parent, who has health conditions and hasn’t been very coping well recently, and they want to know what help may be available to them.
‘‘It’s our role to help them work through their issue, and go through all the options available to them. We advise people regarding their specific set of circumstances and in doing so, we help identify how a problem can be resolved and the actions needed. We can make contact with statutory bodies and complete forms if necessary. Really it’s our role to help people navigate through the issue they have and support them so they don’t have to face it alone.’’
As well as providing advice on a range of issues including care, housing and health, Age NI’s Advice and Advocacy team offer benefits checks, to ensure older people are getting all the financial support they are entitled to. Brenda continued: ‘‘One of the things that people do come to us about quite often is about benefits, and we help them ensure they’re getting all the financial support they are entitled to.
‘‘I remember one particular case where we were able to help identify that a client should be receiving Attendance Allowance because of care needs.
‘‘When she started receiving the benefit, she got a back payment to cover the period whilst her application was being processed, and because of that, she told us that she was able to top up her oil tank for the winter and get her car taxed. She also said that the extra payment every week would allow her to buy better quality and fresh food.
‘‘The difference money like this can make to people’s lives can be life-changing. If you’re able to eat good quality food and heat your home well during the winter, it’s better for your health and wellbeing. And if you can get out and about more often, you’re able to maintain your connections with people, reducing the risk of isolation and loneliness. The impacts are wide and far-reaching.’’
Age NI’s Advice and Advocacy Service is open seven days a week, 365 days a year, and alongside Brenda are three advisers, who all specialise in providing high quality advice on the issues which affect older people most. Advice primarily takes place over the phone, but the charity can provide support via email or in person to those who need it. Brenda added: ‘‘As a team, we place older people are the centre of everything we do and take great pride in providing a high quality service that listens to and supports older people.
‘‘It is humbling to have older people, and their families, place trust in us and allow us to act on their behalf.
‘‘When we achieve positive outcomes for them and realise the impact that our work is having on them, it is very rewarding. That’s what brings us back day after day to do it all again.
‘‘I would encourage anyone who needs advice to please pick up the phone and call us. Please don’t suffer in silence, we are here to help.’’
‘‘If you can get out and about more often, you’re able to maintain your connections with people, reducing the risk of isolation and loneliness. The impacts are wide and far-reaching.’’
Case Study: My mum was able to get respite, giving her time to go out and meet friends
Jane* shared her story about the support she received from Age NI’s Advice and Advocacy Service...
‘‘I called the Age NI Advice Service when my mum was beginning to become overwhelmed in her role as my dad’s full time carer. My parents are both 86, and my dad has dementia, and I could see that mum was becoming really tired, and could do with some help.
‘‘I called Age NI, and the adviser was able to put me in touch with social services in my local Trust. My dad had a needs assessment carried out and my mum had a carer’s assessment. From the assessments, my dad was allocated a care package, and my mum was also able to get respite to give her time to go out and meet with friends.
‘‘The Age NI Adviser also did a benefits check, to ensure my parents were getting all the financial support they were entitled to. It turned out dad was entitled to Attendance. They got an extra £87.65 a week, which meant they could afford to pay a cleaner to help keep on top of the housework.
‘‘Age NI’s support has made such a huge difference to my parents’ lives, and I honestly cannot thank them enough.’’
*This is a real story, however names have been changed to protect the client’s anonymity.
Age NI answers your questions
Q. ‘‘My mum lives by herself, and has various health conditions, and I’m not sure she’s coping too well. How can I help and support her?’’
A. ‘‘When you get older, sometimes you might need a bit of extra support to be able to live the life you want, particularly when you live alone, or when friends and family might not always be around to help. There are things you can do to help ensure your mum has the support she needs.
‘‘If your mum is struggling with health conditions, it might be worth suggesting a check-up with the GP in the first instance. They can check if she’s getting the right medication or treatment that she needs.
‘‘It’s worth checking to see how your mum is keeping the house and whether she is eating well. If this is something she’s struggling with, it could be that she needs extra support at home, and could qualify for a care package.
‘‘Social services can provide a needs assessment to look at help she may need e.g. getting washed, dressed and preparing food. An occupational therapy (OT) assessment could help identify any aids that may benefit her, such as additional grab rails so that she remains safe at home.
‘‘If she’s feeling isolated or lonely, she might benefit from going to a day centre or socialising with other people in her community. Age NI have a range of care and wellbeing services that can help with this.
‘‘Has she had her benefits checked? It’s worth calling Age NI’s Advice and Advocacy Service on 0808 808 7575 and have a benefit check carried out to ensure she’s getting all the financial support she’s entitled to.’’
Anyone who needs support or is worried about an older relative or friend can get in touch by calling Age NI’s free and confidential Advice and Advocacy Service on 0808 808 7575 or visiting: www.ageni.org.