As we age, staying connected socially is crucial. For many older people in the community, loneliness and isolation impact significantly; research shows that 20 percent of people over 65 experience severe loneliness and isolation. The effect on individuals and communities can be harsh.
Research also highlights that the detrimental impact of loneliness and isolation on physical, mental and emotional wellbeing equates to heavy smoking, alcoholism and obesity.
Seniors experience isolation and loneliness for various reasons, including low self-confidence, limited mobility, transport barriers, and loss of friends. Age Concern Auckland provides services geared towards preventing and remedying loneliness and isolation and supporting older people to reintegrate and re-engage with their local community.
“Our Visiting Service provides companionship and support for isolated and lonely older people living in the community. We match them with a regular volunteer visitor,” said Kevin Lamb, CEO of Age-Concern, Auckland.
The visits provide a vital social connection for the older person to the outside world. These visits are often the only social interaction the older person has for the week.
“We match older people with volunteers who have common interests, so it provides an enriching experience for both,” he said.
Visits typically occur weekly, and clients look forward to the visit, and for many, this is the highlight of their week. Volunteer visitors are from a variety of backgrounds and ages. Volunteers share the traits of friendliness and warmth. All want to make a difference in the life of an older person.
The Visiting Service is also an opportunity for Age-Concern to be aware of changing circumstances for these older adults. For example, declining health, cold and damp housing, or poor nutrition, means additional appropriate support can be available if needed.
Currently, Age Concern Auckland has almost 600 over 65s being visited across the city. Volunteers provide over 45,000 hours of visiting support annually.
However, loneliness and isolation can mean different things to different people. For some, a volunteer visiting them in their home once each week is what they need. Yet, for others being able to participate in broader community life is preferred. The Community Engagement Programme facilitates and empowers lonely and isolated older people to participate in local community events and activities by identifying activities and events of interest and overcoming barriers preventing participation.
The events are either run by Age Concern Auckland or through other organisations and community groups. As part of this on the North Shore, there are social opportunities through fortnightly coffee groups run at local cafes.
“Across Auckland, Age-Concern also takes small groups to local community events of interest.
“We also work one-on-one with isolated older people to identify what activities and events are available in their local communities. We then support them to participate in these,” said Lamb.
Ensuring that participants are comfortable, providing assistance to get to the event and making sure that the activity works for them.
“Through our participation in the Ageing Well National Science Challenge, we also reconnect and re-engage isolated older people back into activities and events in the Howick community. Analysing the effect this increased social participation has on their overall health and wellbeing,” he said.
Age Concern Auckland works to ensure that isolated and lonely older people are empowered to create and maintain the social interaction and community engagement that suits their needs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the issue of loneliness and isolation. Older people who live alone frequently get their social interaction through going to the shops, library, or local café. They chat to people when they are out or through the social groups they attend. During lockdowns, it was not possible, which is why it is crucial that, as a society, we look at ways to address loneliness and isolation for older people.
"We must provide opportunities and support for lonely older adults to connect because social connections matter," said Lamb.
Kevin Lamb – CEO
Age Concern Auckland
For more information about the services offered or to connect with Age Concern click here