Age Concern Auckland is a charity that provides direct support to the most vulnerable older people in our community and promotes well-being, respect and dignity for all older people. The programmes are designed to support older adults to improve their well-being and in doing so:
• Reduce the likelihood of elder abuse or neglect and move older people from a position of vulnerability to one of resilience.
• Mitigate against the causes of severe loneliness and isolation and provide support for those already suffering from it.
• Advance positive ageing through the support to assist older people to age well.
The services are provided in English, Mandarin and Cantonese.
The COVID-19 pandemic meant, very quickly, that they had to adapt the way services were delivered. During alert levels 3 & 4 Age Concern Auckland had to rethink the delivery of existing services and introduce new services to assist older people without their own support system. Adapting involved shifting Visiting Service, Elder Abuse Response Service, Social Work Service and Asian Services from face-to-face services to phone services. It also involved introducing a shopping/delivery service for older people needing groceries/essential prescriptions but who were unable to organise this online.
Reflecting on what has happened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, for Age Concern Auckland and the vulnerable and isolated older people they work with, it has highlighted the need for education and support around technology and doing things digitally, including access to technology. A lot of older people don’t know how to use technology or have access to the ongoing support they need for its use to become commonplace. Tied to this, they don’t have internet access.
Not having access to technology or knowing how to use it makes life very difficult during a pandemic. The elderly have challenges over things like paying an electricity bill as it may usually be paid through the post office or questions around buying groceries online. Over time this will change, but finding a workable solution for older people unfamiliar with technology has to be realistic bearing in mind that a proportion of older people will need an alternative to access services online and Age Concern have to provide this.
The pandemic has also highlighted the issue of loneliness and isolation. The enforced lockdowns meant an additional number of the older people felt lonely. A significant portion already does experience loneliness with 20 percent of older Aucklanders experiencing loneliness and isolation at a level that impacts on their physical and mental wellbeing, and the lockdowns exacerbated the issue for others.
Older people who live alone frequently get their social interaction by going to the shops, library, or local café and chatting to people when they are out or through social groups they attend. This was not possible during the lockdowns when they spent every day at home alone. Which is why it is crucial that as a society we look at ways to address loneliness and isolation for older people and provide opportunities and support for lonely older adults to connect. Once again loneliness and isolation are worse if the older person is not digitally connected.
"The question we now need to look at is how do we address these issues in a meaningful way going forward? The pandemic has highlighted what we already knew, while the majority of older people live well there is a significant minority that doesn’t and as an industry, we need to look at how we can meet the needs of this minority to ensure they are supported, not only during pandemics but every day," said Kevin Lamb, CEO Age Concern Auckland.
"A positive consequence of the pandemic has been the increase in awareness of vulnerable older people in the community. The lockdowns drew attention to the older people who are struggling in the community and has motivated many in the wider community to help them. I hope this will continue because these issues are only increasing as our population ages."