Active Retirement Ireland (ARI) recently attended Croí heart and stroke charity’s Citizens Roundtable Discussion on Cardiovascular Health in Ireland, joining with the charity in calling for the government’s immediate action on the development of a new National Cardiovascular Health Strategy, following expiration of the most recent strategy in 2019, and ensuring proper resourcing for the National Stroke Strategy.

As the country’s largest membership organisation for older people, ARI has long advocated for a comprehensive, whole-of-government positive ageing framework that meets the needs of older people and protects all aspects of ageing to ensure people in Ireland are empowered and supported to age well.

ARI Policy and Programmes Manager Alison Bough said: “We can’t keep having more of the same — policies and plans that promise action but cannot be delivered and expire unimplemented. In a year marked by impending local, national, and European elections, it is absolutely essential that elected officials recognise the need for practical strategies that are properly resourced and have well-defined implementation plans and timelines to meet current and future challenges comprehensively.

“This includes the redevelopment of the National Positive Ageing Strategy that was published in 2013 but, regrettably, has remained largely unimplemented in the more than 10 years since, as well as the appointment of an Independent Commissioner for Ageing and Older People which ARI has long advocated for.”

The Croí Roundtable Discussion on Cardiovascular Health involved representatives from a range of key stakeholders, including The Irish Pharmacy Union, Sport Ireland, Irish Rural Link, Pavee Point, the National Women’s Council of Ireland and numerous medical bodies. Together, they directed their focus towards addressing the urgent challenges presented by cardiovascular diseases (CVD) in the country and the absence of a current National Cardiovascular Health Strategy.

The cardiovascular health landscape in Ireland is alarming, with CVD ranking as the second leading cause of death, claiming approximately 10,000 lives annually. Stroke, a significant component of CVD, affects around 7,500 people each year, standing as the primary cause of acquired adult neurological disability. The economic impact of CVD, estimated at €3.44 billion in 2021, underscores the urgency for the development of comprehensive strategies to address this public health crisis.

ARI’s participation at the roundtable discussion brought a unique perspective on the connection between ageing, loneliness, and cardiovascular health. Speaking at the event, Ms Bough emphasised the fact that social isolation in older people, often intensified by factors such as retirement, physical limitation or loss of loved ones, can contribute significantly to heightened stress levels and CVD risk, and said:

“Studies indicate that lonely individuals may experience higher blood pressure, increased inflammation, and a compromised immune system, all of which are risk factors for cardiovascular diseases. Conversely, maintaining robust social connections as people age has demonstrated positive effects on cardiovascular health. Engaging in social activities, having a support system, and fostering meaningful relationships can contribute to reduced stress, improved mental well-being, and potentially better cardiovascular outcomes.”

“Recognising and addressing the link between ageing, loneliness, and cardiovascular health is crucial for developing comprehensive healthcare strategies. Integrated approaches that not only focus on medical interventions but also prioritise social connectedness and community engagement can play a pivotal role in promoting heart health as we age. Encouraging initiatives that combat social isolation and create supportive environments for older individuals is not only beneficial for mental health but also holds the potential to positively impact physical health outcomes. The government needs to uphold its commitment to foster a holistic and age-positive approach to healthcare as opposed to our current ‘sickcare’ system, which is in crisis.”

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