New groups to tackle loneliness in older people

30 Sep, 2016
New groups to tackle loneliness in older people
Some members of the Silver Line Charitable Trust alongside MP Louisa Wall

Two new groups launched yesterday, with the shared objective of promoting active ageing and advancing the health and wellbeing of older people. Ensuring communities are inclusive and encourage social engagement is key to achieving this goal.

Auckland University of Technology has established the AUT Centre for Active Ageing, which delivers research to inform development of age-friendly communities and enable older people to live happier and healthier lives. The Centre’s work will be complemented by the Silver Line Charitable Trust, which has been created by a group of forward-thinking founders who see a need to better support New Zealand’s ageing population.

AUT research shows that social isolation and loneliness negatively impact older people’s health and wellbeing. Loneliness is a risk factor for poor health, serious illness and mortality, and is associated with depressive symptoms, cognitive decline and reduced quality of life. Nearly one in five New Zealand women aged over 65, and one in seven men, report being lonely.

The Silver Line Charitable Trust plans to establish a New Zealand version of the UK’s successful Silver Line, a helpline and befriending service that provides information, friendship and advice to older people. Silver Line UK has received 1 million calls in just three years. It also facilitates group calls for people with shared interests, and has a Silver Letters programme for those who prefer the written word or are hearing impaired.

“Loneliness is a hidden social and health scourge in New Zealand,” says John Lepper, Chair of the Silver Line Charitable Trust NZ.  “We will all benefit from a service like Silver Line UK, which offers life-saving support for older people and their carers.”

The Silver Line will draw on local and international research, to develop a service that aids New Zealand’s unique and growing community of older people.

“We are currently seeing what could be the most significant social and health changes of our lifetime,” says Associate Professor Valerie Wright-St Clair, co-director of the AUT Centre for Active Ageing. “New Zealand has a rapidly ageing population, and one that is extremely diverse. It’s important that the country’s responses to these changes are well informed.”|

The Centre consists of experts in fields including public health, psychology, nursing, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, podiatry and sport science, whose research will include loneliness in the general population, as well as in specific communities.

“We know that ethnic and other minority groups face social discrimination and experience higher levels of loneliness – which is the case for Māori, Asian immigrants, older women, gay men and visually impaired older people. Our research will address the challenges these and other groups face,” says Associate Professor Wright-St Clair.

The launch took place at an Auckland University of Technology function to mark the United Nations International Day of Older Persons, which falls on Saturday 1 October. The focus of this year’s International Day is ageism, its consequences and how to challenge it.