Older people have been subjected to "ageism and stigmatisation" during the pandemic, an Oireachtas Committee has heard.

Age-based response measures such as cocooning had a "huge negative impact" on mental health, Age Action said.

The charity says that the damage was exacerbated by those Covid measures being introduced without older people being consulted.

Celine Clarke, Head of Advocacy and Communications at Age Action, said the United Nations had found that while older people have become highly visible during the pandemic, their voices and concerns have gone unheard.

Ms Clarke was addressing the Sub-Committee on Mental Health, which is examining the services provided to older people and the demands made on them by the impact of Covid-19.

Ms Clarke warned that an "ageist approach" had created a narrative where older people are "vulnerable" and "lacking autonomy".

This has undermined peoples' identities, she said.

Sean Moynihan. CEO of Alone, said that 40% of those who contacted a national helpline said that their mental health was "worse or much worse" because of cocooning measures.

Volunteers noticed that older people were "increasingly distressed by these measures", he added.

Re-emerging from restrictions poses serious challenges, Mr Moynihan said, and called for support services to be stepped up.

Ms Clarke said that a lot of the progress which had been made on positive ageing before the pandemic has now been lost.

Urgent work is needed to address this, she said.

During the pandemic, those in nursing homes have had "their right to life, family life and participation in society... undermined", she added.

Mr Moynihan emphasised that "older people were the most negatively impacted by Covid".

He told the committee that older people who have been bereaved have been through a "horrendous" ordeal.

Loneliness and isolation have been worsened by the pandemic, he said, and they are linked to early death.

He called for a public campaign to destigmatise loneliness.

Three quarters of older people contacting the national support helpline lived alone, Mr Moynihan said.

As the pandemic worsened, the volume of calls rose to 1100 a day, he added.

He told the committee that Alone staff work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

This will continue indefinitely.

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Since the start of the pandemic they have received 81,000 phone calls, made 138,000 phone calls, and are helping 14,800 people on an ongoing basis.

Ms Clarke said digital exclusion is a real concern for older people, and it causes stress and can compromise their safety.

She called for the immediate establishment of the proposed commission on care.

Other issues include Increased heating and fuel costs, and replacing small appliances urgently, she added.

Mr Moynihan said the review of Ireland's Covid response must look at "weakness in systems of governance" in nursing homes.

When the pandemic hit, nursing homes "became overwhelmed very quickly", he said.

"The gaps in services became very obvious" early on, and "home care services... were withdrawn early".

The relationship between nursing home sector and state must also be examined, he said.

Much of the nursing home sector is privately run, and there is a need for more NGO and state providers, in order to provide "quality of choice", he told the committee.

"While 3% to 4% of people will need" nursing homes, older people want to "age in place in the community," Mr Moynihan said.(9.50)

He called for the implementation of Sláintecare.

We need to plan for an ageing demographic, he added.

This includes "more housing with on-site supports as an alternative to nursing homes", and the right to homecare regardless of age.

"Every year 30,000 people die", Dr Nat O Connor, Senior Public Affairs and Policy Specialist at Age Action, said.

Those deaths affect up to 300,000 other people who are in mourning, he added.

Dr O'Connor warned that this is likely to have a "long term implication".

If the "long-term scarring effect" is to be managed, he said, we must "reinforce counselling services" as well as those services that enable people to get out and about and connect with others.

Alone fears that "older people will be left out" of the new housing strategy.

"In most countries in Europe, along the housing spectrum for older people, there is housing with on-site support", Mr Moynihan said.

This is needed in Ireland, Alone believes.

"Our welfare system is based on house ownership, and that is dramatically changing", Mr Moynihan added.

Alone is also calling for the development of a "policy and a strategy around loneliness".

Mr Moynihan wants the "implementation of outstanding reports" including "the National Positive Ageing Strategy, the right to home care... and Sláintecare".