- Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director of Age UK, outlines the effect recent flooding has had on the elderly community, and what the charity is doing to help.
It was shocking and saddening to see the terrible damage caused by the floods which swept across the north of England and parts of Scotland last weekend.
Many thousands of older people have been badly affected and local Age UK partners across the regions have been key partners in the relief effort. These crises – power loss, floods and storms – can be challenging or even traumatising for people of any age. But older people in particular circumstances can be in serious danger. Those who rely on an oxygen machine or stairlift, who can’t easily get out of the house or who live alone may be at risk. The nightmare scenario is an older person alone and cut-off in a crisis – this is what Age UK has been working, along with the emergency rescue services, to avoid.
“He saw an older man sitting on a bench, amongst the flood water, with his head in his hands.”
Hugh Tomlinson, Deputy Chief Officer at Age UK South Lakeland came across just this type of situation when delivering supplies in the Kendal region. He saw an older man sitting on a bench, amongst the flood water, with his head in his hands. When he approached him, the man had blue hands and lips and was very distressed. He had lost his wife some years ago and was quite isolated. The floods and damage to his home had understandably overwhelmed him and in the immediate aftermath, had no one to turn to for support. Hugh and his team of volunteers took him back to the Charity’s centre and got in contact with his family, who drove up from the South of England to look after him.
Although the flood water is now reducing, Age UK Home Helps have been continuing to go out delivering flasks of hot soup, blankets and emergency supplies to people. Stephanie Tufft, Chief Executive of Age UK Lancashire has been at the helm in the badly hit region. She said: “We are really up against it in Lancaster with so many older people suffering both directly from the flood water, but also due to the fact power has been on and off ever since. This has been worsened because our own hub for staff and volunteers is completely wiped out and will be for some months I expect, which has reduced our capacity to co-ordinate efforts.”
The Charity’s information and advice workers have been in the field almost non-stop, playing a vital role in providing information and reassurance to people. Stephanie Tuft added: “There is some real fear amongst our older people, with many struggling to sleep properly and worried about everything from going to the shops to claiming on their insurance. We are helping people with the practicalities such as claim forms and liaising with the insurance companies on their behalf as many have lost telephone access and aren’t online.”
“what’s really hard for people is coming to terms with the loss of treasured memories”
But for many of the older people Age UK has been working with, it is the loss of personal mementos which is the hardest things to comes to terms with.
Hugh Tomlinson added: “Of course people are upset that their homes have been badly damaged and they are anxious about making the insurance claims for new furniture, television, carpets. We have a mobile shop that we are re-branding as a Mobile Support Unit to get information and advice out to remote locations. But what’s really hard for people is coming to terms with the loss of treasured memories; the photos of loved ones who’ve passed away, a lifetime of family photos, letters from their youth, postcards, tickets of special events they attended throughout their lives. These things make up someone’s personal history and are irreplaceable. Many younger people have their photos backed up digitally, but for the people we are working with, unfortunately once the physical copy has gone, there is no back up.
In response to this, Age UK South Lakeland is looking at the possibility of starting a memory vault, providing people with a way of copying their precious memories to protect them and allow them to live on into the future. It is just a seed of an idea currently, but it could be a really positive development in this community’s steps to protect it against further flooding.
Photo credit: Age UK