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Family comes first for older people

Media release
Family comes first for older people

Family come first with older people but they also want to be independent. And no one wants to be seen as a burden.

A new study funded by the Families Commission Blue Skies Fund shows older people (55 to 70 years old) look to both friends, partners and family for emotional and practical support as they age. But there is a special connection and obligation with blood relatives – even for those whose relationships are strained.

In all 36 older people were interviewed to find out more about their experience of family life. Older Adults’ Experience of Family Life – linked lives and independent living by Massey University School of Psychology researchers Mary Breheny and Christine Stephens suggested that future policy for older people should reflect their concerns about independence and their preference for reciprocating help.

New Zealand has an aging population with more than 12 percent now aged over 65.
Over next 40 years that number will more than double to 26 percent

“Research helps us understand what is needed to support older people as they age. At the moment there is a lot of research looking at older adults within the context of their need for tax payer funded support services. We need to put more emphasis on the contributions these older people make to their families and to society over their life span,” said Dr Breheny.

“The contributions continue for these 55 to 70 year olds – some of whom were working or providing back up support for their families. There was a strong feeling however that they didn’t want to be dependent in any way and any help that was given needed to be balanced out by something they did in return,” she said.

Most of those who took part in the study felt it was important to stay connected with both their immediate and extended family as they aged. Some said they grew closer to their brothers and sisters as they got older, particularly once their parents died.

“Some also used the notion of family to describe the importance of friends who they felt were more like a sister, or mother, for instance.”

The full report can be downloaded from


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