What do we know about older people in our society? How do we plan services for older citizens in Ireland?

A growing population of older people is placing additional pressure on services. So, what measures are being put in place to address this?

What are the health and social care facilities and services available to older people?

It's very easy to be emotional about old people.

Many studies on the lives of older people tend to look at the over 65s in special groups - in institutions, hospitals, community centres, and as pensioners trying to keep up with the cost of living. As a result, a number of popular assumptions and myths have grown in the public mind about older people. They are often looked upon as a large but separate section of the population.

It is now a generally widespread belief that most old people are in poor health and that most old people are physically isolated from their families.

It is believed that most old people want to continue to work. It is also believed and that most old people are living in poverty. However, these beliefs are only half truths and the reality is far more complex. In the past, it was these perceptions that deliberated health and welfare policy for older people. Many of these policies offer too little flexibility and choice to those they are designed to serve.

Much of the £86 million spent on healthcare in Ireland was put towards schemes designed to improve the lives of older people. Along with this are the many voluntary organisations who work to help older people often covering the gaps overlooked by the government schemes.

Progress in the care of older people can be seen at St James' Hospital in Dublin. While the buildings have been condemned and are overcrowded, the care for older people is being provided. These services come at a cost.

Costs per week for admissions runs to £43 and once patients on their feet, they can be admitted to the day hospital for £11.75.

The hospital also provides a day centre facility where staff supervise projects designed to improve the well-being of patients.

This grant system of care for older people was launched by the then Minister for Health Seán Flanagan in 1968. The grants available started at £50,000 and now run at £300,000. Services include the provision of meal, home help, information services, day centres and access to professionals like social workers and occupational therapists. There are also grants available for community centres and old folks clubs.

One user of the services at St James' Hospital believes it is great value for money for the tax payer. However, not everyone believes that enough is being done to help older people. Dr John Flanagan, Consultant Physician in Geriatrics at the hospital, recently called for a medical and social revolution in the country to solve the longstanding neglect of medical, social and welfare facilities available to old people. The Department of Health disagrees with Dr Flanagan's assessment of the service and says it is doing everything in its power to provide the required facilities.

While there have been attempts to deal with the challenges facing older people, their problems are growing. As treatments improve, people are living longer meaning that a longer term of care is required of the health service.

This episode of 'Encounter' was broadcast on 4 February 1973.

'Encounter' was a series of topical reports on developments in money, industry and science, and how they affect the people of Ireland.