Wednesday, February 15, 2012

rural isolation and the elderly



I was visiting an elderly aunt that lives in a fairly rural part of north Cork today. She lives alone. Another nephew and his family live the next house up the road, maybe 100 feet & a home help comes most days for about an hour. She can't get to Mass, so the local clergy bring her Holy Communion about once a month. She manages on her own quite independently with the help she receives. 

Her only outside excursions, bar the occasional trip to the doctor or the hospital, is to a daycare centre, about 6 miles away, twice a week. Until quite recently she was brought there, free of charge, by taxi. With the recent cutbacks that changed & she was told she'd have to pay 15 euros; a small charge for two 12-mile round trips, perhaps; but a large amount out of someone's pension; & quite the kind of thing that would discourage an elderly person worrying about feeding themselves and paying the bills from going ... which would have quite an impact on someone's life. For my aunt, for example, this twice weekly trip was her only social outlet.

Luckily, the daycare centre rallied round the people they look after & found some way to fund a bus so that all their users could continue to come free of charge. But it did make me wonder ... most of these elderly people living in isolated rural locations have 'the bus pass' - free travel passes on public transport paid for by the government. And a lot of them get no use from it whatsoever.

What use is free travel on the bus or train to those who live nowhere near a bus route or train station? Wouldn't some form of voucher system that allowed them to access taxi services be of more use to them? An elderly person living alone up a mountain would get a lot more benefit from a weekly trip to the local town to do their shopping then an infinite amount of free bus and train rides that they can't use.

Maybe it's time for a change to how the free travel scheme operates ... after all, the 'free travel' scheme is intended to be of benefit to the elderly, not just another way of subsidising the public transport system. And surely what Christ meant, in part at least, when he said to the Beloved disciple at the foot of the Cross 'behold your Mother' was that we have a duty to cherish the aged among us?

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