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The “Viva gli anziani” project, no longer alone

The “Viva gli anziani” project, no longer alone

Facilitating active ageing and assisting elderly people who live alone: these are the goals of the “Viva gli Anziani” project launched in Rome in 2004 by the Community of Sant’Egidio. An initiative that, partly thanks to the support of Enel Cuore, is now helping more than 15,000 people across Italy.


In 2003, Europe was hit by an unprecedented heatwave that caused the deaths of thousands of elderly people, in particular those living alone or in social isolation. Italy was one of the hardest hit countries. The following year the Community of Sant’Egidio launched the Viva gli Anziani project in Rome, an innovative service to create monitoring and support networks designed to help the older members of the population. Reaching out to as many people as possible, preventing lonely deaths, encouraging cooperation from local communities and municipal administrations in helping the elderly population: these are the objectives of the programme, which was one of the first to be supported by Enel Cuore. “The project,” explains one of the programme's coordinators, Olga Madaro, “was initially launched as a trial in two areas of Rome's historical centre, Trastevere and Testaccio, before being expanded over the years to include the Esquilino area and more recently, thanks to the support of Enel Cuore, to the neighbourhoods of Monti and Monteverde, where a further two support centres have been set up. The service is aimed at all sectors of the elderly population, including both the rich and the poor, because social isolation is a problem that can affect anyone, regardless of their social, cultural or financial circumstances.”


Monitoring and home visits

First and foremost, Viva gli Anziani involves the telephone monitoring of all the over 80s residing in the areas covered by the project. “We have a database provided by the municipality which includes all the area's residents,” explains Madaro. “We initially start by sending out letters to explain what the programme is and then we start contacting the elderly people one by one. This enables us to create a true register of the local population, because in many cases a person might officially be a resident of the area but actually live elsewhere, for example in a care home or at their children's house. The monitoring service entails visiting them, giving them a quick social-health questionnaire to complete to establish their level of vulnerability and then, depending on this level, phoning or visiting them either every 15 days, once a month, or every two to three months”. One of the most appreciated services, says the coordinator, “is when we wish them a happy birthday, they often tell us that nobody remembers to call them so it's something they are very grateful for.”


A protection network

Another important aspect of the programme is the creation of a social support network. “We speak to care workers working in social services, to GPs as well as shopkeepers, chemists, neighbours and relatives,” says Madaro. “We ask them to check that the elderly people are OK, and to let us know if they notice that something's not right. In particular we ask for their cooperation: we ask shopkeepers if they can do free home deliveries, and we ask neighbours if they can call in on the elderly person when we are aware that they are going through a difficult period.” In addition to the support network, the coordinators are also helped by the elderly people themselves, the very people who benefit from the programme. “They come here and help by making phone calls, carrying out visits, or doing anything else they can to assist. Some of them also go to government administration offices to deal with any bureaucratic issues on behalf of those who are unable to go themselves. All these activities make up our programme of active ageing.”


A story of friendship

What encourages the elderly to help out in the office is often the relationship that they develop with the coordinators. Like that between Nadia Accarino, one of the programme's coordinators, and an elderly woman from Rome. “She lived alone with her mother for years, they were very close. The mother was very old and bedridden, and the woman took care of her mother on her own, with all the difficulties that a situation like that poses. We gave her constant support, including moral support, and we provided help with the necessary documentation and paperwork to ensure she got the assistance she needed. A friendship developed and through our efforts the mother was able to live at home until she was almost 100 years old. Following her mother's death, the woman received an eviction order, but we were able to prevent her from having to leave the house. Now she's over 80 years old, she's happy and every week she comes to give us a hand by phoning elderly people.”


Helping the over 80s stay in their own home

Another key element of the Viva gli Anziani programme is providing support to families. “It can often happen,” explains Madaro, “that family members who take on the role of looking after their relatives suddenly lose their own self-sufficiency as a result of illness. In such cases it becomes important to tell the families that a particular office is open on a certain day, to explain which documents are necessary to receive a particular service or to inform them that they can request and receive in-home healthcare support. This is the kind of vital information that helps families find ways to enable their elderly relatives to stay at home. This is a high priority objective for us.” Housing is becoming an increasingly critical issue for these elderly people. “Pension payments are often very low and people have difficulty paying their rent, especially in cities like Rome where the prices are particularly high.” One of the solutions that has been identified by the project is cohousing. “For example, in Trastevere Enel Cuore has helped us by donating a house where four evicted elderly people now live. They share the expenses and as a result are now able to live in a way that would otherwise be impossible.”

Cohabitation is often the only way to avoid having to move into a care home, including for the many people who, due to illness or other unforeseen circumstances, suddenly find themselves unable to afford their living expenses. “In Rome I became involved in the case of a woman who lived with her husband and who for years, whenever we phoned, always said that everything was fine. He then became seriously ill and died, and as a result she found herself in a very difficult situation. Aside from the emotional and psychological stress of losing her husband, a pension of 580 euros was barely enough to cover the rent. We helped her by contacting and activating all the local services, we then organised for an elderly evicted woman with a dog to go and live with her, she immediately fell in love with the dog which, despite a few little hiccups, helped the women to build a strong relationship.”


A constantly expanding network

Over the years Viva gli Anziani has also expanded to other Italian cities. “Thanks to Enel Cuore,” explains Madaro, “we have also launched the programme in NovaraGenoaNaplesCatania and, following the 2016 earthquake, in Amatrice where, due to the particular difficulties of that situation, we are monitoring all the over 65s.” Awareness campaigns regarding the risks of an ageing population have also been run in Livorno, Campello sul Clitunno, Mestre, Reggio Calabria, Iglesias, Carbonia and Sassari. “Since 2018, as well as continuing in the cities where it's already running, we have also launched the programme in SassariBrindisi and Civitavecchia, with a total of over 15,000 elderly people being monitored, 4,000 of whom are in Rome.” A constantly expanding support network to meet the needs of the elderly by focussing on the individual person.